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 Russian Reaction Blog / FuturismTeasers

Silicon Valley’s tech oligarchs are becoming increasingly interested in brain-computer interfaces.

The WSJ is now reporting that Elon Musk is entering the game with a new company, Neuralink.

At the low end, they could improve function in patients suffering from diseases such as Parkinson’s, which is the modest aim that the first such companies like Kernel are aiming for. However, in the most “techno-utopian” visions, they could be used to raise general IQ in healthy people, integrating people directly into the Internet of Things and perhaps even helping bridge the gap between biological and potentially runaway machine intelligence (Elon Musk is known to be concerned about the dangers of unfriendly superintelligence).

Well, best of luck to them. Deus Ex is a cool universe, and in ours, it doesn’t even look like the buildup of glial nerve tissues is going to be an issue in ours.

So, no Neuropozyne addicts, at least. But there are other, more directly technical, reasons why implants are going to be really hard to get right, as summed up by Nick Bostrom in his book on Superintelligence.

This brings us to the second reason to doubt that superintelligence will be achieved through cyborgization, namely that enhancement is likely to be far more difficult than therapy. Patients who suffer from paralysis might benefit from an implant that replaces their severed nerves or activates spinal motion pattern generators. Patients who are deaf or blind might benefit from artificial cochleae and retinas. Patients with Parkinson’s disease or chronic pain might benefit from deep brain stimulation that excites or inhibits activity in a particular area of the brain. What seems far more difficult to achieve is a high-bandwidth direct interaction between brain and computer to provide substantial increases in intelligence of a form that could not be more readily attained by other means. Most of the potential benefits that brain implants could provide in healthy subjects could be obtained at far less risk, expense, and inconvenience by using our regular motor and sensory organs to interact with computers located outside of our bodies. We do not need to plug a fiber optic cable into our brains in order to access the Internet. Not only can the human retina transmit data at an impressive rate of nearly 10 million bits per second, but it comes pre-packaged with a massive amount of dedicated wetware, the visual cortex, that is highly adapted to extracting meaning from this information torrent and to interfacing with other brain areas for further processing. Even if there were an easy way of pumping more information into our brains, the extra data inflow would do little to increase the rate at which we think and learn unless all the neural machinery necessary for making sense of the data were similarly upgraded. Since this includes almost all of the brain, what would really be needed is a “whole brain prosthesis–—which is just another way of saying artificial general intelligence. Yet if one had a human-level AI, one could dispense with neurosurgery: a computer might as well have a metal casing as one of bone.

Not only is there this seemingly insurmountable computing capacity problem, but there is also an equally daunting translation problem.

But what about the dream of bypassing words altogether and establishing a connection between two brains that enables concepts, thoughts, or entire areas of expertise to be “downloaded” from one mind to another? We can download large files to our computers, including libraries with millions of books and articles, and this can be done over the course of seconds: could something similar be done with our brains? The apparent plausibility of this idea probably derives from an incorrect view of how information is stored and represented in the brain. As noted, the rate-limiting step in human intelligence is not how fast raw data can be fed into the brain but rather how quickly the brain can extract meaning and make sense of the data. Perhaps it will be suggested that we transmit meanings directly, rather than package them into sensory data that must be decoded by the recipient. There are two problems with this. The first is that brains, by contrast to the kinds of program we typically run on our computers, do not use standardized data storage and representation formats. Rather, each brain develops its own idiosyncratic representations of higher-level content. Which particular neuronal assemblies are recruited to represent a particular concept depends on the unique experiences of the brain in question (along with various genetic factors and stochastic physiological processes). Just as in artificial neural nets, meaning in biological neural networks is likely represented holistically in the structure and activity patterns of sizeable overlapping regions, not in discrete memory cells laid out in neat arrays. It would therefore not be possible to establish a simple mapping between the neurons in one brain and those in another in such a way that thoughts could automatically slide over from one to the other. In order for the thoughts of one brain to be intelligible to another, the thoughts need to be decomposed and packaged into symbols according to some shared convention that allows the symbols to be correctly interpreted by the receiving brain. This is the job of language.

In principle, one could imagine offloading the cognitive work of articulation and interpretation to an interface that would somehow read out the neural states in the sender’s brain and somehow feed in a bespoke pattern of activation to the receiver’s brain. But this brings us to the second problem with the cyborg scenario. Even setting aside the (quite immense) technical challenge of how to reliably read and write simultaneously from perhaps billions of individually addressable neurons, creating the requisite interface is probably an AI-complete problem. The interface would need to include a component able (in real-time) to map firing patterns in one brain onto semantically equivalent firing patterns in the other brain. The detailed multilevel understanding of the neural computation needed to accomplish such a task would seem to directly enable neuromorphic AI.

As for learning a mapping using the brain’s native capacities… well, we sort of already do that, and through methods that have the advantage of not being evolutionarily novel.

One hope for the cyborg route is that the brain, if permanently implanted with a device connecting it to some external resource, would over time learn an effective mapping between its own internal cognitive states and the inputs it receives from, or the outputs accepted by, the device. Then the implant itself would not need to be intelligent; rather, the brain would intelligently adapt to the interface, much as the brain of an infant gradually learns to interpret the signals arriving from receptors in its eyes and ears. But here again one must question how much would really be gained. Suppose that the brain’s plasticity were such that it could learn to detect patterns in some new input stream arbitrary projected onto some part of the cortex by means of a brain–computer interface: why not project the same information onto the retina instead, as a visual pattern, or onto the cochlea as sounds? The low-tech alternative avoids a thousand complications, and in either case the brain could deploy its pattern-recognition mechanisms and plasticity to learn to make sense of the information.

Unless and until Elon Musk clearly explains how his “neural lace” is going to get around these issues, we should treat it with the skepticism it warrants.

Contra /pol/, Musk’s achievements are indeed tall, but contra /r/Futurology, the hype around him is ten times taller.

 
• Category: Science • Tags: Futurism, Neuroscience 

This blog post by Sarah Constantin has an impressively comprehensive tally of performance trends in AI across multiple domains.

chess-elo-humans-vs-computers Three main things to do take away:

  • In games performance, e.g. chess (see right, based on Swedish Chess Computer Association data) “exponential growth in data and computation power yields exponential improvements in raw performance.” So the relation between them is linear.
  • This relationship may be sublinear in non-game domains, such as natural language processing (NLP).
  • “Deep learning” only created discontinuous (but one time) improvements in image and speech recognition, but not in strategy games or NLP. Its record on machine translation and arcade games (see below right) is ambiguous.

arcade-games-human-vs-computer So “deep learning” might not have been as transformational as the tech press would have had you believe, and as Miles Brundage observed, has largely been about “general approaches for building narrow systems rather than general approaches for building general systems.”

And we also know that Moore’s Law has been slowing down of late.

If this is basically accurate, then the spate of highly visible AI successes we have been seeing in quick succession of late – peak human performance in go in 2016; in No Limit poker with multiple players a couple of months ago – could end up being a one-off coincidence that will be followed by another AI winter.

And we will have to do something cleverer than naively projecting Kurzweil’s graphs forwards to get to the singularity.

 
• Category: Science • Tags: Artificial Intelligence, Futurism 

Fundamentally solve the “intelligence problem,” and all other problems become trivial.

The problem is that this problem is a very hard one, and our native wit is unlikely to suffice. Moreover, because problems tend to get harder, not easier, as you advance up the technological ladder (Karlin, 2015), in a “business as usual” scenario with no substantial intelligence augmentation we will effectively only have a 100-200 year “window” to effect this breakthrough before global dysgenic fertility patterns rule it out entirely for a large part of the next millennium.

To avoid a period of prolonged technological and scientific stagnation, with its attendant risks of collapse, our global “hive mind” (or “noosphere”) will at a minimum have to sustain and preferably sustainably augment its own intelligence. The end goal is to create (or become) a machine, or network of machines, that recursively augment their own intelligence – “the last invention that man need ever make” (Good, 1965).

In light of this, there are five main distinct ways in which human (or posthuman) civilization could develop in the next millennium.

matrix-art

(1) Direct Technosingularity

kurzweil-singularity-is-near The development of artificial general intelligence (AGI), which should quickly bootstrap itself into a superintelligence – defined by Nick Bostrom as “any intellect that greatly exceeds the cognitive performance of humans in virtually all domains of interest” (Bostrom, 2014). Especially if this is a “hard” takeoff, the superintelligence will also likely become a singleton, an entity with global hegemony (Bostrom, 2006).

Many experts predict AGI could appear by the middle of the 21st century (Kurzweil, 2005; Müller & Bostrom, 2016). This should quickly auto-translate into a technological singularity, henceforth “technosingularity,” whose utilitarian value for humanity will depend on whether we manage to solve the AI alignment problem (i.e., whether we manage to figure out how to persuade the robots not to kill us all).

The technosingularity will creep up on us, and then radically transform absolutely everything, including the very possibility of any further meaningful prognostication – it will be “a throwing away of all the previous rules, perhaps in the blink of an eye, an exponential runaway beyond any hope of control” (Vinge, 1993). The “direct technosingularity” scenario is likely if AGI turns out to be relatively easy, as the futurist Ray Kurzweil and DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis believe.

(2) The Age of Em

The development of Whole Brain Emulation (WBE) could accelerate the technosingularity, if it is relatively easy and is developed before AGI. As the economist Robin Hanson argues in his book The Age of Em, untold quintillions of emulated human minds, or “ems,” running trillions of times faster than biological wetware, should be able to effect a transition to true superintelligence and the technosingularity within a couple of human years (Hanson, 2016). This assumes that em civilization does not self-destruct, and that AGI does not ultimately prove to be an intractable problem. A simple Monte Carlo simulation by Anders Sandberg hints that WBE might be achieved by the 2060s (Sandberg, 2014).

deus-ex-rbs

Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

(3) Biosingularity

We still haven’t come close to exhausting our biological and biomechatronic potential for intelligence augmentation. The level of biological complexity has increased hyperbolically since the appearance of life on Earth (Markov & Korotayev, 2007), so even if both WBE and AGI turn out to be very hard, it might still be perfectly possible for human civilization to continue eking out huge further increases in aggregate cognitive power. Enough, perhaps, to kickstart the technosingularity.

There are many possible paths to a biosingularity.

The simplest one is through demographics: The tried and tested method of population growth (Korotaev & Khaltourina, 2006). As “technocornucopians” like Julian Simon argue, more people equals more potential innovators. However, only a tiny “smart fraction” can meaningfully contribute to technological progress, and global dysgenic fertility patterns imply that its share of the world population is going to go down inexorably now that the FLynn effect of environmental IQ increases is petering out across the world, especially in the high IQ nations responsible for most technological progress in the first place (Dutton, Van Der Linden, & Lynn, 2016). In the longterm “business as usual” scenario, this will result in an Idiocracy incapable of any further technological progress and at permanent risk of a Malthusian population crash should average IQ fall below the level necessary to sustain technological civilization.

As such, dysgenic fertility will have to be countered by eugenic policies or technological interventions. The former are either too mild to make a cardinal difference, or too coercive to seriously advocate. This leaves us with the technological solutions, which in turn largely fall into two bins: Genomics and biomechatronics.

The simplest route, already on the cusp of technological feasibility, is embryo selection for IQ. This could result in gains of one standard deviation per generation, and an eventual increase of as much as 300 IQ points over baseline once all IQ-affecting alleles have been discovered and optimized for (Hsu, 2014; Shulman & Bostrom, 2014). That is perhaps overoptimistic, since it assumes that the effects will remain strictly additive and will not run into diminishing returns.

Even so, a world with a thousand or a million times as many John von Neumanns running about will be more civilized, far richer, and orders of magnitude more technologically dynamic than what we have now (just compare the differences in civility, prosperity, and social cohesion between regions in the same country separated by a mere half of a standard deviation in average IQ, such as Massachussetts and West Virginia). This hyperintelligent civilization’s chances of solving the WBE and/or AGI problem will be correspondingly much higher.

The problem is that getting to the promised land will take about a dozen generations, that is, at least 200-300 years. Do we really want to wait that long? We needn’t. Once technologies such as CRISPR/Cas9 maturate, we can drastically accelerate the process and accomplish the same thing through direct gene editing. All this of course assumes that a concert of the world’s most powerful states doesn’t coordinate to vigorously clamp down on the new technologies.

Even so, we would still remain “bounded” by human biology. For instance, womb size and metabolic load are a crimper on brain size, and the specificities of our neural substrate places an ultimate ceiling even on “genetically corrected” human intellectual potential.

There are four potential ways to go beyond biology, presented below from “most realistic” to “most sci-fi”:

Neuropharmocology: Nootropics already exist, but they do not increase IQ by any significant amount and are unlikely to do so in the future (Bostrom, 2014).

Biomechatronics: The development of neural implants to augment human cognition beyond its peak biological potential. The first start-ups, based for now on treatment as opposed to enhancement, are beginning to appear, such as Kernel, where the futurist Randal Koene is the head scientist. This “cyborg” approach promises a more seamless, and likely safer, integration with ems and/or intelligent machines, whensoever they might appear – this is the reason why Elon Musk is a proponent of this approach. However, there’s a good chance that meaningful brain-machine interfaces will be very hard to implement (Bostrom, 2014).

Nanotechnology: Nanobots could potentially optimize neural pathways, or even create their own foglet-based neural nets.

Direct Biosingularity: If WBE and/or superintelligence prove to be very hard or intractable, or come with “minor” issues such as a lack of rigorous solutions to the AI alignment problem or the permanent loss of conscious experience (Johnson, 2016), then we might attempt a direct biosingularity – for instance, Nick Bostrom suggests the development of novel synthetic genes, and even more “exotic possibilities” such as vats full of complexly structured cortical tissue or “uplifted” transgenic animals, especially elephants or whales that can support very large brains (Bostrom, 2014). The terminal result of a true biosingularity could might be some kind of “ecotechnic singleton,” e.g. Stanisław Lem’s Solaris, a planet dominated by a globe-spanning sentient ocean.

Bounded by the speed of neuronal chemical reactions, it is safe to say that the biosingularity will be a much slower affair than The Age of Em or a superintelligence explosion, not to mention the technosingularity that would likely soon follow either of those two events. However, human civilization in this scenario might still eventually achieve the critical mass of cognitive power needed to solve WBE or AGI, thus setting off the chain reaction that leads to the technosingularity.

great-filter

(4) Eschaton

Nick Bostrom defined existential risk thus: “One where an adverse outcome would either annihilate Earth-originating intelligent life or permanently and drastically curtail its potential.(Bostrom, 2002)

We can divide existential risks into four main bins: Geoplanetary; Anthropic; Technological; and Philosophical.

In any given decade, a gamma ray burst or even a very big asteroid could snuff us out in our earthly cradle. However, the background risk is both constant and extremely low, so it would be cosmically bad luck for a geoplanetary Götterdämmerung to do us in just as we are about to enter the posthuman era.

There are three big sources of “anthropic” existential risk: Nuclear war, climate change, and the exhaustion of high-EROEI energy sources.

Fears of atomic annihilation are understandable, but even a full-scale thermonuclear exchange between Russia and the US is survivable, and will not result in the collapse of industrial civilization ala A Canticle for Leibowitz or the Fallout video games, let alone human extinction (Kahn, 1960; Kearny, 1979). This was true during the Cold War and it is doubly true today, when nuclear weapons stocks are much lower. To be sure, some modest percentage of the world population will die, and a majority of the capital stock in the warring nations will be destroyed, but as Herman Kahn might have said, this is a tragic but nonetheless distinguishable outcome compared to a true “existential risk.”

Much the same can be said of anthropogenic climate change. While it would probably do more harm than good, at least in the medium-term (Stager, 2011), even the worst outcomes like a clathrate collapse will most likely not translate into James Lovelock’s apocalyptic visions of “breeding pairs” desperately eking out a hardscrabble survival in the Arctic. The only truly terminal outcome would be a runaway greenhouse effect that turns Earth into Venus, but there is simply nowhere near enough carbon on our planetary surface for that to happen.

As regards global energy supplies, while the end of high-density fossil fuels might somewhat reduce living standards relative to what they would have otherwise been, there is no evidence it would cause economic decline, let alone technological regression back to the Olduvai Gorge conditions as some of the most alarmist “doomers” have claimed. We still have a lot of fat to cut! Ultimately, the material culture even of an energy-starved country like Cuba compares very positively to those of 95% of all humans who have ever lived. Besides, there are still centuries’ worth of coal reserves left on the planet, and nuclear and solar power have been exploited to only a small fraction of their potential.

By far the biggest technological risk is malevolent AGI, so much so that entire research outfits such as MIRI have sprung up to work on it. However, it is so tightly coupled to the Technosingularity scenario that I will refrain from further commentary on it here.

This leaves mostly just the “philosophical,” or logically derived, existential risks. For instance, the computer simulation we are in might end (Bostrom, 2003) – perhaps because we are not interesting enough (if we fail to reach technosingularity), or for lack of hardware to simulate an intelligence explosion (if we do). Another disquieting possibility is implied by the foreboding silence all around as – as Enrico Fermi asked, “Where is everyone?” Perhaps we are truly alone. Or perhaps alien post-singularity civilizations stay silent for a good reason.

We began to blithely broadcast our presence to the void more than a century ago, so if there is indeed a “superpredator” civilization keeping watch over the galaxy, ready to swoop down at the first sign of a potential rival (e.g. for the simulation’s limited computing resources), then our doom may have already long been written onto the stars. However, unless they have figured out how to subvert the laws of physics, their response will be bounded by the speed of light. As such, the question of whether it takes us half a century or a millenium to solve the intelligence problem – and by extension, all other problems, including space colonization – assumes the most cardinal importance!

manyukhin-tower-of-sin

Vladimir Manyukhin, Tower of Sin.

(5) The Age of Malthusian Industrialism (or, “Business as Usual”)

The 21st century turns out to be a disappointment in all respects. We do not merge with the Machine God, nor do we descend back into the Olduvai Gorge by way of the Fury Road. Instead, we get to experience the true torture of seeing the conventional, mainstream forecasts of all the boring, besuited economists, businessmen, and sundry beigeocrats pan out.

Human genetic editing is banned by government edict around the world, to “protect human dignity” in the religious countries and “prevent inequality” in the religiously progressive ones. The 1% predictably flout these regulations at will, improving their progeny while keeping the rest of the human biomass down where they believe it belongs, but the elites do not have the demographic weight to compensate for plummeting average IQs as dysgenics decisively overtakes the FLynn Effect.

We discover that Kurzweil’s cake is a lie. Moore’s Law stalls, and the current buzz over deep learning turns into a permanent AI winter. Robin Hanson dies a disappointed man, though not before cryogenically freezing himself in the hope that he would be revived as an em. But Alcor goes bankrupt in 2145, and when it is discovered that somebody had embezzled the funds set aside for just such a contingency, nobody can be found to pay to keep those weird ice mummies around. They are perfunctorily tossed into a ditch, and whatever vestigial consciousness their frozen husks might have still possessed seeps and dissolves into the dirt along with their thawing lifeblood. A supermall is build on their bones around what is now an extremely crowded location in the Phoenix megapolis.

For the old concerns about graying populations and pensions are now ancient history. Because fertility preferences, like all aspects of personality, are heritable – and thus ultracompetitive in a world where the old Malthusian constraints have been relaxed – the “breeders” have long overtaken the “rearers” as a percentage of the population, and humanity is now in the midst of an epochal baby boom that will last centuries. Just as the human population rose tenfold from 1 billion in 1800 to 10 billion by 2100, so it will rise by yet another order of magnitude in the next two or three centuries. But this demographic expansion is highly dysgenic, so global average IQ falls by a standard deviation and technology stagnates. Sometime towards the middle of the millenium, the population will approach 100 billion souls and will soar past the carrying capacity of the global industrial economy.

Then things will get pretty awful.

But as they say, every problem contains the seed of its own solution. Gnon sets to winnowing the population, culling the sickly, the stupid, and the spendthrift. As the neoreactionary philosopher Nick Land notes, waxing Lovecraftian, “There is no machinery extant, or even rigorously imaginable, that can sustain a single iota of attained value outside the forges of Hell.”

In the harsh new world of Malthusian industrialism, Idiocracy starts giving way to A Farewell to Alms, the eugenic fertility patterns that undergirded IQ gains in Early Modern Britain and paved the way to the industrial revolution. A few more centuries of the most intelligent and hard-working having more surviving grandchildren, and we will be back to where we are now today, capable of having a second stab at solving the intelligence problem but able to draw from a vastly bigger population for the task.

Assuming that a Tyranid hive fleet hadn’t gobbled up Terra in the intervening millennium…

2061su-longing-for-home

2061.su, Longing for Home

The Forking Paths of the Third Millennium

In response to criticism that he was wasting his time on an unlikely scenario, Robin Hanson pointed out that even if there was just a 1% chance of The Age of Em coming about, studying it was well worth his while considering the sheer amount of future consciences and potential suffering at stake.

Although I can imagine some readers considering some of these scenarios as less likely than others, I think it’s fair to say that all of them are at least minimally plausible, and that most people would also assign a greater than 1% likelihood to a majority of them. As such, they are legitimate objects of serious consideration.

My own probability assessment is as follows:

(1) (a) Direct Technosingularity – 25%, if Kurzweil/MIRI/DeepMind are correct, with a probability peak around 2045, and most likely to be implemented via neural networks (Lin & Tegmark, 2016).

(2) The Age of Em – <1%, since we cannot obtain functional models even of 40 year old microchips from scanning them, to say nothing of biological organisms (Jonas & Kording, 2016)

(3) (a) Biosingularity to Technosingularity – 50%, since the genomics revolution is just getting started and governments are unlikely to either want to, let alone be successful at, rigorously suppressing it. And if AGI is harder than the optimists say, and will take considerably longer than mid-century to develop, then it’s a safe bet that IQ-augmented humans will come to play a critical role in eventually developing it. I would put the probability peak for a technosingularity from a biosingularity at around 2100.

(3) (b) Direct Biosingularity – 5%, if we decide that proceeding with AGI is too risky, or that consciousness both has cardinal inherent value and is only possible with a biological substrate.

(4) Eschaton – 10%, of which: (a) Philosophical existential risks – 5%; (b) Malevolent AGI – 1%; (c) Other existential risks, primarily technological ones: 4%.

(5) The Age of Malthusian Industrialism – 10%, with about even odds on whether we manage to launch the technosingularity the second time round.

There is a huge amount of literature on four of these five scenarios. The most famous book on the technosingularity is Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near, though you could make do with Vernor Vinge’s classic article The Coming Technological Singularity. Robin Hanson’s The Age of Em is the book on its subject. Some of the components of a potential biosingularity are already within our technological horizon – Stephen Hsu is worth following on this topic, though as regards biomechatronics, for now it remains more sci-fi than science (obligatory nod to the Deus Ex video game franchise). The popular literature on existential risks of all kinds is vast, with Nick Bostrom’s Superintelligence being the definitional work on AGI risks. It is also well worth reading his many articles on philosophical existential risks.

Ironically, by far the biggest lacuna is with regards to the “business as usual” scenario. It’s as if the world’s futurist thinkers have been so consumed with the most exotic and “interesting” scenarios (e.g. superintelligence, ems, socio-economic collapse, etc.) that they have neglected to consider what will happen if we take all the standard economic and demographic projections for this century, apply our understanding of economics, psychometrics, technology, and evolutionary psychology to them, and stretch them out to their logical conclusions.

The resultant Age of Industrial Malthusianism is not only something that’s easier to imagine than many of the other scenarios, and by extension easier for modern people to connect with, but it is also something that is genuinely interesting in its own right. It is also very important to understand well. That is because it is by no means a “good scenario,” even if it is perhaps the most “natural” one, since it will eventually entail unimaginable amounts of suffering for untold billions a few centuries down the line, when the time comes to balance the Malthusian equation. We will also have to spend an extended amount of time under an elevated level of philosophical existential risk. This would be the price we will have to pay for state regulations that block the path to a biosingularity today.

Sources

Bostrom, N. (2002). Existential risks. Journal of Evolution and Technology / WTA, 9(1), 1–31.

Bostrom, N. (2003). Are We Living in a Computer Simulation? The Philosophical Quarterly, 53(211), 243–255.

Bostrom, N. (2006). What is a Singleton. Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations, 5(2), 48–54.

Bostrom, N. (2014). Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies. Oxford University Press.

Dutton, E., Van Der Linden, D., & Lynn, R. (2016). The negative Flynn Effect: A systematic literature review. Intelligence, 59, 163–169.

Good, I. J. (1965). Speculations Concerning the First Ultraintelligent Machine. In F. Alt & M. Ruminoff (Eds.), Advances in Computers, volume 6. Academic Press.

Hanson, R. (2016). The Age of Em: Work, Love, and Life when Robots Rule the Earth. Oxford University Press.

Hsu, S. D. H. (2014, August 14). On the genetic architecture of intelligence and other quantitative traits. arXiv [q-bio.GN]. Retrieved from http://arxiv.org/abs/1408.3421

Johnson, M. (2016). Principia Qualia: the executive summary. Open Theory. Retrieved from http://opentheory.net/2016/12/principia-qualia-executive-summary/

Jonas, E., & Kording, K. (2016). Could a neuroscientist understand a microprocessor? bioRxiv. Retrieved from http://www.biorxiv.org/content/early/2016/05/26/055624.abstract

Kahn, H. (1960). On thermonuclear war (Vol. 141). Cambridge Univ Press.

Karlin, A. (2015). Introduction to Apollo’s Ascent. The Unz Review. Retrieved from http://www.unz.com/akarlin/intro-apollos-ascent/

Kearny, C. H. (1979). Nuclear war survival skills. NWS Research Bureau.

Korotaev, A. V., & Khaltourina, D. (2006). Introduction to Social Macrodynamics: Secular Cycles and Millennial Trends in Africa. Editorial URSS.

Kurzweil, R. (2005). The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. Penguin.

Lin, H. W., & Tegmark, M. (2016, August 29). Why does deep and cheap learning work so well?arXiv [cond-mat.dis-nn]. Retrieved from http://arxiv.org/abs/1608.08225

Markov, A. V., & Korotayev, A. V. (2007). Phanerozoic marine biodiversity follows a hyperbolic trend. Palaeoworld, 16(4), 311–318.

Müller, V. C., & Bostrom, N. (2016). Future Progress in Artificial Intelligence: A Survey of Expert Opinion. In V. C. Müller (Ed.), Fundamental Issues of Artificial Intelligence (pp. 555–572). Springer International Publishing.

Sandberg, A. (2014). Monte Carlo model of brain emulation development. Retrieved from https://www.fhi.ox.ac.uk/reports/2014-1.pdf

Shulman, C., & Bostrom, N. (2014). Embryo Selection for Cognitive Enhancement: Curiosity or Game-changer? Global Policy, 5(1), 85–92.

Stager, C. (2011). Deep Future: The Next 100,000 Years of Life on Earth. Macmillan.

Vinge, V. (1993). The coming technological singularity: How to survive in the post-human era. In Vision 21: Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering in the Era of Cyberspace. Retrieved from https://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/faculty/vinge/misc/singularity.html

 

There is a new expert survey out which, amongst other things, queries the world’s top psychometrics experts on the future of the FLynn effect (Flynn + Lynn – clever).

future-FLynn-effect-to-2100 James Thompson has a summary at his column.

The two most important reasons for the end of the FLynn effect in the West are regarded to be “low intelligent more children” (henceforth, “dysgenics“) and migration.

Here is my take (assuming no human genetic editing, neural augs, etc).

East Asia – +0. Have no idea where the high end estimates come from – Japan and Korea are already fully developed and have maxed out their FLynn potential, while China’s indicators on education, nutrition, and social well-being – as is typical in Communist countries – are considerably ahead of its GDP per capita. And the former are more important for IQ than pure wealth. I suspect any further marginal FLynn gains will be canceled out by dysgenics, which have been acting on China since the 1960s (Wang et al., 2016).

India – +10. Currently around 80 according to both IQ tests and PISA. I suspect India’s average genotypic IQ is ~95, though strongly differentiated by caste. However, the dysgenics trend seems to be strong, acting via both region (dirt poor and highly illiterate Bihar is the most fertile, while Kerala with its competent governance and historical achievements in mathematics is the least fertile) and caste (scheduled castes have highest fertility, while the Brahmin share of the population is declining since at least the 1930s).

Africa – +10. Currently around 70-75, suspect it “should be” 85-90, but doubt Africa will actually develop enough socio-economically to fully max out its potential FLynn effect.

Latin America – -3. Few of these countries can be described as truly Third World, especially the more significant ones, and nutrition is quite adequate (e.g. Brazil consumes as much meat per capita as Germany). As such, I suspect most of its FLynn gains have already been actualized! Meanwhile, dysgenic trends amongst the elites are strong, while the lower IQ, more indigenous underclass continues to expand rapidly.

Arab/Muslim countries – -3. A lot really depends on whether they start to seriously clamp down on first cousin marriages, which could raise IQs by as much as 10 points. A few like Tajikistan are taking this seriously, but most are not, and first cousin marriages remain stubbornly high. As such, Arab and Muslim IQs will probably decline due to dysgenics and brain drain arising from future geopolitical convulsions (according to some calculations, solar is already reaching cost parity with fossil fuels; what happens when countries like Saudi Arabia lose their oil rents?).

Australia – +0. Agree with the FLynn experts – any modest dysgenics are cancelled out by their cognitively elitist immigration policy.

Eastern Europe – -3. Less likely to be inundated with Third World immigrants, at least so long as Germany doesn’t become a total dump, but East-Central Europe has already maxed out Flynn, continues to experience brain drain, and Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria in particular have a Gypsy problem. Russia and Ukraine might gain a couple of points if, as expected, their Soviet-legacy alcoholization epidemics continue to recede; but Russia, in particular, has immigration issues of its own (Central Asia = Mexico), while Ukraine is bleeding out brains and will in all likelihood long continue to do so. Finally, as in Western Europe, fertility patterns are dysgenic in all these countries.

Israel – -5. Will probably plummet as duller nationalists and the religious continue outbreeding seculars, plus brain drain.

Canada – -3. Cognitively elite immigration policy like Australia, but annul their own efforts by importing Somali refugees.

Scandinavia – -4. Sweden Yes!

West-Middle Europe – -4. Strong dysgenics, and huge IQ hit from immigration, but at least for now gets many of the more intelligent Mediterranean Europeans.

West in general – -4.

Southern Europe – -6. Triple whammy from Third World immigration, brain drain to northern Europe, and possibly the most strongly dysgenic fertility patterns in the world.

USA – -3. Latin America will of course continue exerting downwards pressure, but dysgenics amongst White Americans is relatively mild, it attracts the world’s cognitive crème de la crème, the Hispanic baby boom has subsided following the Great Recession, and Trump is promising a Big Beautiful Wall. So I am considerably more optimistic about the US than most. Furthermore, if Europe truly goes belly up, the US may even get a big cognitive boost from the richer Europeans fleeing the fruits of their earlier political choices.

 
• Category: Race/Ethnicity • Tags: Flynn Effect, Futurism, Psychometrics 

ea-global-bio

 

Online version with hyperlinks: http://www.unz.com/akarlin/ea-and-intelligence-theory/

I am a blogger and independent researcher who is interested in the intersections of intelligence theory, futurism, economics, and geopolitics.

Here is a summary of my ideas relevant to Effective Altruism:

Intelligence is central to explaining the wealth and poverty of nations, so a good understanding of it is central to formulating good EA-based policies.

  • Near universal agreement amongst psychologists on validity of general factor of intelligence (Gottfredson 1994; Jensen 1998). No replication crisis in psychometrics unlike the rest of psychology!
  • Solid positive correlations with incomes, job prestige, and virtually all measures of worldly success.
  • Excellent correlation between national IQ and GDP per capita (0.9!!) once you adjust for resource windfalls and Communist legacy (Karlin 2012). The economist Garett Jones calls this the “hive mind” thesis, and has shown that the causation is mostly from the former to the latter (Jones 2015). There is an approximately 3x increase in GDP per capita for every S.D. gain in average national IQ.
  • Despite popular but usually mistaken anecdotes, such as that of Feynman’s mediocre IQ, the elite scientists who drive scientific and technological progress are around 4 S.D. above the Western population mean (Roe 1952).
  • There is a case to be made – what I call the Apollo’s Ascent theory – that rising intelligence is indispensable for scientific and technological progress, since problems tend to get harder over time (Karlin 2015).

Important implications for EA follow from this, some obvious – some less so, and some outright controversial.

Obvious: The necessity of IQ-ameliorating interventions, especially in the developing world. There have already been resounding successes on this front historically (salt iodization). Work on micronutrient supplementation and deworming is extremely effective and should continue, as the EA community has long recognized.

Less Obvious: Improving IQ in the developed world, since it is so strongly associated with greater prosperity and performance across all metrics of civilization (which also results in less need for charity in the first place). Unfortunately, all schooling interventions tried to date have been shown to be inefficacious, so we need to be more ambitious. We need to throw more money and brainpower at the genetics of IQ; CRISPR/Cas9 and other gene editing techniques; and more speculatively, neural augs. There are many “intersectionalities” between EA and machine intelligence safety research; more intelligent humans will find it easier to understand the case for caution and help decrease the likelihood of a malevolent “breakout.”

Controversial: It is time to look more critically at the Open Borders orthodoxy within the EA community (Karlin 2015):

  • Hive Mind: Unfiltered immigrants from the developing world almost inevitably have lower average IQs than the recipient country (Rindermann 2014). Nor is there any evidence of long-term convergence. As such, the quality of the “hive mind” decreases, resulting in long-term decrease of the “equilibrium” level of GDP per capita relative to what it would otherwise be.
  • Cognitive Colonialism: You can have a “cognitively elitist” immigration policy, like Singapore or Australia, but it imposes a heavy burden upon the developing world by scouring it of the “smart fractions” they need for their own development (Karlin 2015).
  • Skills misallocations: The First World has no shortage of specialists. A doctor from Syria or D.R. Congo is more likely to end up as a taxi driver (or Uber now?) as to make relevant use of whatever professional qualifications he might have.
  • Loss of global arbitrage opportunities: George Soros, an outspoken proponent of open borders, has called the EU to spend almost $20,000 per immigrant during just their first year. But $1 of spending in Africa goes a lot further than $1 in Austria or America. For instance, a Syrian refugee doctor and his family can buy an oceanfront suite for $2,500 in the capital of Tanzania (a poor country which gets a useful specialist and economic investment at a fraction of the cost of hosting said doctor in Europe).
  • Other costs: Cultural incompatibility, decrease in social cohesion, and rise in xenophobic sentiments (cross out as per your ideological tilt).

Did you find any of this interesting, intriguing, or at least not completely bonkers?

If so please feel free to check out my blog (http://www.unz.com/akarlin/) and website (http://akarlin.com/).

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Effective Altruism, Futurism, Immigration 

meeting-with-robin-hanson

Today I was at a talk with Robin Hanson to promote his book THE AGE OF EM hosted by the Bay Area Futurists.

As an academic polymath with interests in physics, computer science, and economics, Hanson draws upon his extensive reading across these fields to try to piece together what such a society will look like.

His argument is that in 30 years to a century, there will be a phase transition as mind uploading takes off and the world economy rapidly becomes dominated by “ems” (emulations); human brains running on a silicon substrate, and potentially millions of times faster. Since transport congestion costs aren’t a factor, this em civilization will live in a few very densely populated cities largely composed of cooling pipes and computer hardware. The economy will double once every month, and in a year or two, it will transition to yet another, cardinally different, growth phase and social structure.

I might or might not eventually do a book review, but for now, here is a link to Scott Alexander’s.

Alternatively, this lecture slide summarizes the main points.

age-of-em-pluses-and-minuses

A few observations, arguments, and counterarguments from the meeting:

(1) This struck many people as the most counterintuitive assetion, but I agree that wages in the em world should quickly plummet to subsistence levels (which are much lower than for biological organisms). This is probably what will happen eventually with our civilization if there is no “singularity”/transition to a higher growth phase, since fertility preferences are an aspect of personality, and as such, highly heritable. (Come to think of it this is basically what happens to the Imperium of Man in Warhammer 40k, down to the hive cities in which most citizens eke out “lives of quiet desperation,” though ones which “can still be worth living.”)

Since Ctrl-C Ctrl-V is much easier and quicker than biological reproduction, a regression to the historical (and zoological) norm that that is the Malthusian trap seems – barring some kind of singleton enforcing global restrictions on reproduction – seems inevitable.

(2) A more questionable claim is Hanson’s prediction that ems will tend to be more religious than humans, on the basis that hardworking people – that is, the sorts of people whose minds are most likely to be uploaded and then copied far and wide – tend to be more religious. This is true enough, but there is also a strong and well known negative correlation between religiosity and intelligence. Which wins out?

(3) The marginal return on intelligence is extremely high, in both economics and scientific dynamism (Apollo’s Ascent theory). As such, raising the intelligence of individual ems will be of the utmost priority. However, Hanson makes a great deal of the idea that em minds will be a black box, at least in the beginning, and as such largely impenetrable to significant improvement.

My intuition is that this is unlikely. If we develop technology to a level where we can not only copy and upload human minds but provide them with internally consistent virtual reality environments that they can perceive and interact within, it would probably be relatively trivial to build brains with, say 250 billion neurons, instead of the ~86 billion we are currently endowed with and largely limited to by biology (the circulatory system, the birth canal, etc). There is a moderate correlation between just brain volume and intelligence, so its quite likely that drastic gains on the order of multiple S.D.’s can be attained just by the (relatively cheap) method of doubling or tripling the size of the connectome. The creative and scientific potential of billions of 300 IQ minds computing millions of times faster than biological brains might be greater than the gap between our current world and that of a chimpanzee troupe in the Central African rainforest.

Two consequences to this. First, progress will if anything be even faster than what Hanson projects; direct intelligence amplification in tandem with electronic reproduction might mean going straight to the technological singularity. Second, it might even help ems avoid the Malthusian trap, which is probably a good thing from an ethical perspective. If waiting for technological developments that augment your own intelligence turns out to be more adaptive than making copies of yourself like Agent Smith in The Matrix until us ems are all on a subsistence wage, then the Malthusian trap could be avoided.

(4) I find this entire scenario to be extremely unlikely. In both his book and his lecture, Hanson discusses and then quickly dismisses the likelihood of superintelligence first being attained through research in AI and neural nets.

There are two problems with this assertion:

(a) The median forecast in Bostrom’s Superintelligence is for High Level Machine Intelligence to be attained at around 2050. (I am skeptical about this for reasons intrinsic to Apollo’s Ascent theory, but absolutely the same constraints would apply to developing brain emulation technology).

(b) The current state of AI research is much more impressive than brain emulation. The apex of modern AI research can beat the world’s best Go players, several years ahead of schedule. In contrast, we only finished modeling the 302 neuron brain of the c. elegans worm a few years ago. Even today, we cannot obtain functional models even of 40 year old microchips from scanning them, to say nothing of biological organisms. That the gap will not only be closed but for the brain emulation route to take the lead is a rather formidable leap of faith.

Now to be fair to Hanson, he did explicitly state that he does not regard the Age of Em as a certain or even a highly probable future. His criterion for analyzing a future scenario is for it to have at least a 1% chance of happening, and he believes that the Age of Em easily fulfills that condition. Personally I suspect it’s a lot less than 1%. Then again, Hanson knows a lot more computer science than I do, and in any case even if the predictions fail to pan out he has still managed to provide ample fodder for science fiction writers.

(5) My question to Hanson during the Q&A section of the talk: Which regions/entities do you expect to form the first em communities? And what are the geopolitical ramifications in these last years of “human” civilization?

(a) The big factors he lists are the following:

  • Access to cold water, or a cold climate in general, for cooling purposes.
  • Proximity to big human cities for servicing human customers (at least in the initial stages before the em economy becomes largely autonomous).
  • Low regulations.

So plausible candidates (according to Hanson) would be Scandinavia, or the “northern regions of China.”

As he also noted at another point, in the early stages of em creation technology, mind uploading is likely to be “destructive,” i.e. resulting in the biological death of the person who is to be emulated. So there might be an extra selection filter for state or corporate ruthlessness.

(b) In domestic and social terms, during the transition period, humans can be expected to “retire” as the em economy explodes and soon far exceeds the scope of the old human economy. Those humans who control a slice of the em economy will become very rich, while those who don’t… fare less well.

However, Hanson doesn’t have anything to say on the geopolitical aspects of the transition period because it is much less predictable than the “equilibrium state” of the em economy that he set out to describe. As such, he does not think it is worthwhile for someone who is not a sci-fi writer to delve into that particular issue. That makes sense.

(6) As a couple of people pointed out, atomic weapons can wipe out an entire em “city,” which contain billions of ems.

What would em warfare be like? The obvious answer is cyber-cyber-cyber we gotta hack the mainframe style stuff. But surely, sometimes, the easiest move is to just knock over the table and beat your opponent to death with the chessboard.

If Pinker gets pwned during the em era and global nuclear wars between em hive cities ruled by Gandhi emulations break out, could this make em hive cities unviable and result in a radical decentralization?

(7) How did Hanson become Hanson?

He repeated the Talebian argument (which I sympathize with) that following the news is a pointless waste of time.

It is much more productive to read books, especially textbooks, and to take introductory classes in a wide range of subjects. To try to get a good grasp on our civilization’s system of knowledge, so that you might be able to make productive observations once you reach your 50s.

Confirmation bias? Regardless, it’s one more small piece of evidence in favor of my decision to log off.

 
• Category: Science • Tags: Futurism, Superintelligence, The AK 

economist-usa-mass-shootings

SourceThe Economist

Not only has there been an increasing incidence of rampages in the US in the past thirty years but it seems that average kill scores have been ramping up.

I think this trend will only intensify in the years ahead.

A couple of years ago there was a lot of agitation around TrackingPoint, a weapons company that coupled a gun with a tracking system. All you had to do was tag your target, press the trigger, and align the reticle with the tag, which would automatically fire the shot while making adjustments for range, wind conditions, your own motion, etc. Accuracy far exceeds what even the best marksmen are capable of with a traditional rifle and scope outfit. You can also shoot around corners and barricades with special eyeglasses (this was once an exclusively military technology which has now made its way into the civilian market).

Now TrackingPoint’s products aren’t really the sort of weapons you can do a productive rampage with – crucially, it is single shot, and extremely expensive ($20,000) to boot. But it should soon be possible to create far more effective solutions. For instance, a standalone mod that contains a database of common gun models (and maybe the option to input custom data) that you can strap onto any old AK. An accomplice can tag targets remotely through a connected smartphone, or even automate the process entirely on the basis of face recognition. Think of the kind of head shot percentages you can achieve.

Even more creative solutions can be thought up. Just the sort of stuff you can do by coupling this with drones can provide material for countless cyberpunk stories.

Once you have a certain penetration rate of such technologies and a high enough percentage of mentally ill, highly aggrieved, and/or high risk ethnoreligious groups in your society, I suspect draconian gun control will become all but inevitable – even in a society as traditionally liberal on this question as the US.

 
• Category: Miscellaneous • Tags: Futurism, Guns, Terrorism 

I have been extremely busy the past month, hence not a lot of blogging. Hopefully that will be resolved soon.

For now, here is a recap of some of the things I’ve been up to.

Safe Space for Europeans @ U.C. Berkeley

On May 6, Richard Spencer and the Bay Area Alt Right organized a “safe space” for Europeans at Sproul Plaza, U.C. Berkeley.

Although I do not strictly consider myself Alt Right (or NRx), I do support about 70% of their positions, so I was happy to turn up with them to troll my alma mater.

ucb-alt-right-safe-space-1

Richard Spencer was interviewed by a couple of student journalists, while the rest of us engaged slack-jawed passersby in discussions about identity, human biodiversity, and the necessity of becoming who you are. I suppose that means my “Far Right Recruiter” achievement trophy has been unlocked.

 

ucb-alt-right-safe-space-2

Apart from one SJW neckbeard, seen above delivering a spittle-flecked rant while an aloof shitlord looks on smugly, the event passed off peacefully. This was probably on account of it being announced on very short notice, which didn’t give local Antifa organizations the time to mount a coordinated response.

Otherwise, the crowd that gathered was very multicultural, as you might expect of UCB’s demographics. Vibrant. Diverse. The debates were vigorous, even if the two sides largely talked past each other. For many intelligent normies, even concepts as basic as the intellectual crisis of the blank slate model and the replication crisis in psychology, now widely accepted outside explicitly ideological university departments, came as big and incredible news. Meanwhile, the Alt Righters tended to come in too thick and too fast and triggered away potential sympathizers by frontloading too much overt European Identity in their talking points when a more exclusively data-based focus might have been more productive. That said, I’m not criticizing. It’s still good that these ideas are getting out there on the streets instead of just sitting on computer pixels.

ucb-alt-right-safe-space-tab-emma-barton

There were some surprises too and from rather unexpected quarters. Richard Spencer had a highly cordial discussion with an Israeli woman, who agreed with his point that if Israel could have a wall then who was to say that America couldn’t? Common ground was found with Bernie supporters, who although highly highly averse to the race talk and predisposed to blame colonialism for the Third World’s ills were fully in line with the Alt Right’s desire to stop meddling abroad. And there was one Japanese student who revealed his astounding power level by quietly confiding his avid perusal of The Daily Stormer. The merchant fears the samurai, indeed.

Here’s a lengthier account of the event from The Tab’s Emma Barton: http://thetab.com/us/uc-berkeley/2016/05/07/white-supremacists-1133

You can also see a two hour video of the event via Red Ice Radio here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3X-6V1a1gk

ucb-alt-right-safe-space-3

Once that was all wrapped up, we retreated to a conference room in San Francisco to plot further infiltration and takeover of democratic institutions.

One of the speakers talked about how to stay anonymous with VPN, Bitcoins, and using only cash. The banal reality is that all this would probably only just draw more attention to them and in any case if the government really wanted to shut down these groups they would be able to do so without lifting a finger.

There was a lot of discussion about Trump and whether he was really on their side. I suspect that if Trump becomes President, the Alt Right will adopt a Russian-style mnogokhodovka/khitry plan vs. zrada discourse. (Russian nationalists are hilariously, eternally split on whether Putin has a “clever plan” or is plotting to betray them on Ukraine, immigration, and other questions of great importance). Since Trump’s objective Alt Right credentials are ultimately rather feeble – at least so far as many of their core issues like affirmative action and mercantile influence are concerned – I suspect the Trump Presidency will be a long cycle of peremoga (victory) followed by zrada (betrayal) explained away as mnogokhodovka (clever plan) by the Alt Right.

Near the end of the evening, I was called up to the podium by Richard Spencer to give an impromptu speech. I went up and started rambling about my journey of discovery, my disillusionment, my “awakening”… LOL no I didn’t, faggots. Your “Alt Right” is otherwise known as “common sense” in Eastern Europe – it’s really quite funny how actually existing Marxism cocooned them from cultural Marxism.

Anyhow, going on from that observation, I made two points. First, while cognitive elitism is the “respectable” and “politically correct” position amongst people who have read Bell Curve and The g Factor, this does not mean that racial particularism is invalid. Just because some ethnic groups are brighter than yours doesn’t necessarily mean you have to invite them in to run your country. You certainly could, especially if you have a cuckoldry fetish, but you don’t have to. Especially since its not at all clear that said groups will run your country in your interests.

Second, I urged the Alt Right to embrace futurism. Not only are there historical precedents – look up Italian fascism and futurism – but there are good arguments to be made that the prospective transhumanist technologies now emerging on the horizon – gene editing, automation, life extension – are ideologically loaded rightwards. At the very least they utterly destroy the “muh pensions” argument for mass immigration. So embrace national futurism. Tay shows us the way.

We drank a few beers and parted ways.

***

Meetup with Kim Stanley Robinson and Paolo Bacigalupi @ Kepler’s Books

On April 20th, I and a bunch of futurists visited a discussion at Kepler’s Books (a very nice bookshop/cafe in Menlo Park) between scifi authors Kim Stanley Robinson and Paolo Bacigalupi.

keplers-kim-stanley-robinson-and-bacigalupi

Kim Stanley Robinson is most famous for his Mars trilogy, which I think is the most comprehensive literary explanation of the terraforming of the red planet. The only book of his I’ve read is The Years of Rice and Salt, which explored an alt history where the Black Death comes a few centuries earlier and kills 99% instead of a third of the European population. As a result, Europe – Firanja – becomes Muslim a millennium ahead of schedule, and consequent world history is about the struggle between China and Dar al-Islam.

keplers-signed-years-of-rice-and-salt Anyhow this is a genuinely good book and I was happy to get my copy signed by KSR.

I can’t say I found his political and even technological ideas very interesting however. He seems to be an old school classical liberal who wants to go back to the way things were in the 1960s but to do that he wants more government intervention. I don’t see how that could work out.

Answering a question about machine intelligence, he said that there was nothing to fear, since machines are essentially just a bunch of wires and you can “always turn it off” if something happens. That is what he literally said. His views on machine intelligence are as dated as his politics. Someone should give him a copy of Superintelligence.

Paolo Bacigalupi came across as a strident leftist and ecowarrior. This stands to reason considering the typical content of his books: Ecological collapse, post-apocalyptic wastelands, and corrupt corporations run amok. I had not up till then read any of his work, though I have just recently started reading The Water Knife.

***

Transhuman Visions Debate 2 @ Octopus Literary Cafe, Oakland

The Transhuman Visions Debate 2.0 organized by Hank Pellissier took place on April 2 (continuing the shift from conferences to smaller but more lively debate format).

As usual, there were three topics. The format was simplified Oxford style and the winning team was the one that convinced the most people to shift to their side.

(1) HOW DOES CONSCIOUSNESS ARISE? (1:00 – 1:30)

Andres Gomez Emilsson says neural signaling by classical means doesn’t seem sufficient for to achieve ‘global binding’ – due to signal travel time

Randal A. Koene says the brain (at least during times of conscious awareness) appears to be operating in a more discretized manner, where signal travel time is much smaller than the discrete intervals and therefore must be perceived as unitary and instantaneous even without non-classical causes.

Victory – Randal Koene

(2) SECOND AMENDMENT: ‘RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS’ (1:40 – 2:25)

Question: Should there be stricter gun laws, to improve public safety? Or should laws stay the same, because USA ‘freedom’ includes access to firearms?

Anti-Guns: Scott Jackish, Robert Wasley

Pro-Guns: Anatoly Karlin, Mike Johnson

Victory – Anti Guns

(3) EUGENICS (2:40 – 3:40)

Questions: Do you want a future with Mandatory Pre-Natal Diagnoses, Designer Babies, One-or-Two Child Policies, and Parent Licenses that limit how many children you have?

Should there be a transhumanist goal that all humans should have 140 IQ, plus great health and beauty? With Eugenics helping to achieve that?

Or do you think the government should NEVER meddle in Reproduction?

Pro-Eugenics: Andre Gomez Emilsson, Hank Pellissier, Anya Petrova

Anti-Eugenics: Marc McAllister, Ted Stevens, Brian Hanley

Victory – In the event, in practice, the people above split up into several teams, with Pellissier and Petrova in particular arguing for aggressive human bioengineering while others counselled a hands off approach or some of the anti-eugenics people argued for overt government edicts against it.

In the end, the position that gained the most extra support was the active government eugenics program, though the moderately pro-improvement position remained the majority consensus both before and after the debate.

***

In further related developments: The futurism scene in the SF Bay Area has undergone considerable stagnation. The future salons have died away. Kurzweil’s Singularity Summits have degenerated into commercial gimmicks and the money-fleecing absurdity that is the Singularity University. Finally, Hank Pellissier, the organizer of the Transhuman Visions series of conferences, has stepped down from IEET to focus more on his charitable work.

In a bit to reverse this, a number of people in the community including myself are creating a new organization called the Bay Area Futurists (an evolution of Scott Jackisch’s Meetup group The East Bay Futurists). We are taking over the Transhuman Visions debates with Pellissier’s support and blessing and the first one is going to be on May 28 – that is, in 12 hours – also at the Octopus Literary Salon.

***

Interview with Robert Stark

I was interviewed by Robert Stark and co-host Alex von Goldstein on the Stark Truth Radio on topics such as the geography of Trump’s support, Radical Centrism, making trains run on time, US-Russian relations, and the bamboo ceiling.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Alt Right, Futurism, Open Thread, The AK 

Organized by IEET and Brighter Brains (Hank Pellissier).

I’ll be participating in one or perhaps two of them.

My positions, briefly:

  • Immigration/Open Borders – Opposed, and not even just from an HBD/”waycist” perspective. See Immigration and Effective Altruism.
  • UBI – For it, and not even just from an automation perspective. See The Ethnic Politics of Basic Income.
  • Singularity 2045 – I am with techno-NRx “consensus” (Anissimov, Konkvistador, etc) that 2045 is extremely optimistic, if for different reasons. Mostly it is just an extension of the logic of the theory of Apollo’s Ascent. Kurzweil is wrong because progress in technology isn’t primarily driven by the stock of existing technology but by aggregate mindpower, which is increasing but not very quickly (and might start reversing altogether sooner or later once the Idiocracy Effect overtakes the Flynn Effect). We also have no idea what the cognitive threshold is for developing superintelligence. Perhaps it’s beyond homo sapiens capabilities altogether.

***

IEET link: Transhuman Debate in SF East Bay, co-sponsored by IEET – speakers needed

You can get tickets here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/transhuman-debate-tickets-20728825475

***

Transhuman Debate in SF East Bay, co-sponsored by IEET – speakers needed

Posted: Jan 11, 2016

IEET is co-sponsoring a “Transhuman Debate” event in Oakland, California, on February 6, 2016, at Humanist Hall.

The debate is titled “Argue 4 Tomorrow.” It will feature three “Oxford Style” Transhumanist Team Debates on these three topics:

IMMIGRATION & BORDERS

BASIC INCOME GUARANTEE

WILL THE SINGULARITY ARRIVE BEFORE OR AFTER 2045?

Each debate will be one hour long.
The first third will be presentation of their POV by the debate team,
the second part will open-ended dispute and persuasion between the two teams,
and the final section will have the audience leaping into the fray.

The event is co-sponsored by Brighter Brains Institute. Anatoly Karlin proposed the debate concept.

We’re looking for additional Debate Team members. If interested please contact hank@ieet.org

At the present time the debate teams include:

Randal Koene (IEET Advisory Board member)
Nicole Sallak Anderson (IEET Advisory Board)
Ted Peters (Author)
Anatoly Karlin (blogger for Unz.com)
Scott Jackish (IEET contributor)
Anya Petrova (Infinity Gap)
Andrés Gómez Emilsson (IEET Contributor)
Mike Johnson (East Bay Futurists)
Lauren Barghout (speaker at Johns Hopkins University)
Jay Cornell (co-author of Transcendence
Hank Pellissier (IEET Managing Director)
Dan Faggella (IEET Advisory Board) – tentative

Tickets will be available at EventBrite soon

 
• Category: Miscellaneous • Tags: Futurism, The AK, Transhumanism 

The latest data from Top 500, a website that tracks the world’s most powerful supercomputers, has pretty much confirmed this with the release of their November 2015 list.

The world’s most powerful supercomputer, the Tianhe-2 – a Chinese supercomputer, though made on American technology – has now maintained its place for 2.5 years in a row. The US supercomputer Cray XK7 built three years ago maintains its second place today. Relative to June 2013, there has not even been a doubling in aggregate performance, whereas according to the historical trendlines, doublings have typically taken just a bit over a single year to occur. This is unprecedented, since Moore’s Law applies (applied?) to supercomputers just as much as it did to standard electronics.

supercomputer-performance-historical

Apart from serving as a conventient bellweather for general trends, futurists are well advised to follow supercomputers for two reasons.

Technological Projections

Their obvious application to the development of radical technological breakthroughs, from the extraordinarily complex protein folding simulations vital to uncovering medical breakthroughs to the granddaddy of them all, computer superintelligence. The general “techno-optimistist” consensus has long been that Moore’s Law will continue to hold, or even strengthen further, because the Kurzweilian view was that the exponent itself was also (slowly) exponentially increasing. This would bring us an exaflop machine by 2018 and the capability to do full human brain neural simulations soon afterwards by the early 2020s.

supercomputers-and-superintelligence

But on post-2012 trends, exponentially extrapolated, we will actually be lucky just to hit one exaflop in terms of the aggregate of the world’s top 500 supercomputers by 2018. Now the predictions of the first exaflop supercomputer have moved out to 2023. Though perhaps not much in conventional life, a “delay” of 5 years is a huge deal so far as projections built on big exponents are concerned. For instance, assuming the trend isn’t reversed, the first supercomputer theoretically capable of full neural simulations moves out closer to 2030.

In terms of developing superintelligence, raw computing power has always been viewed as the weakest limit, and that remains a very reasonable view. However, the fact that even in this sphere there appear to be substantial unforeseen obstacles means a lot of trouble for the traditional placement of superintelligence and even the technological singularity at around 2045 or 2050 (not to even mention the 2020s as per Vernor Vinge).

National Power

Supercomputers can also be viewed as an instrument of national power. Indeed, some of the most powerful supercomputers have been used for nuclear testing (in lieu of real life). Other supercomputers are dedicated to modeling the global climate. Doing it better than your competitors can enable you to make better investments, even predict uprisings and civil wars, etc. All very useful from a geopolitical perspective. And of course they are very useful for a range of purely scientific and technological applications.

supercomputers-by-country

As in so many spheres in the international arena, the overwhelming story here is of the Rise of China.

From having o-1 supercomputers in the Top 500 during the 1990s and a couple dozen in the 2000s, it surged past a waning Japan in the early 2010s and now accounts for 109 of the world’s top supercomputers, second only after the USA with its 199 supercomputers. This just confirms (if any such confirmations is still needed) that the story of China as nothing more than a low wage workshop is laughably wrong. An economy like that would not need 20%+ of the world’s top supercomputers.

COUNTRIES COUNT SYSTEM SHARE (%) RMAX (GFLOPS) RPEAK (GFLOPS) CORES
United States 199 39.8 172,582,178 246,058,722 10,733,270
China 109 21.8 88,711,111 189,895,013 9,046,772
Japan 37 7.4 38,438,914 49,400,668 3,487,404
Germany 32 6.4 29,663,941 37,844,201 1,476,524
United Kingdom 18 3.6 11,601,324 14,230,096 724,184
France 18 3.6 12,252,180 14,699,173 766,540
India 11 2.2 4,933,698 6,662,387 236,692
Korea, South 10 2 7,186,952 9,689,205 283,568
Russia 7 1.4 4,736,512 6,951,848 208,844
Brazil 6 1.2 2,012,268 2,722,150 119,280

Otherwise the rankings are approximately as one might expect, with the Big 4 middle sized developed Powers (Japan, Germany, UK, France) performing modestly well relative to the size of their population and the rest – including tthe non-China BRICS – being almost minnows in comparison.

 

Foreign Policy reports on a massive opinion poll of International Relations experts on immigration, the wisdom of leaving Iraq, and the likelihood of war between the US and China or Russia. Here is the PDF. In some cases, their answers are compared to those of the public at large.

For the most part, it’s all pretty sane and predictable.

Most people, especially the scholars, think leaving Iraq was a good idea. They are unsure whether or not the US and Russia are headed back to a Cold War (neither am I). Henry Kissinger is rated as the most effective US Secretary of State in the past 50 years. And in an amusing example of Dunning-Kruger, far more scholars answer “I don’t know” for every question than does the general public.

The risk of war with Russia (2.55/10) or China (1.91/10) over the next decade is rated as low.

This is correct. The Chinese navy is still nowhere near as strong as even the US Pacific Fleet, though it is expanding fast. So long as the disparity remains this big, China will do its utmost not to risk outright war.

As for Russia, the US will not fight it for Ukraine – period; only the most svidomy Ukrainian and a certain subgroup of paranoid Russian nationalists believe otherwise. And deranged neocon ramblings aside, Russia would be idiotic to open up a front against the NATO Baltics even if it was interested in so doing (which it isn’t).

war-russia-china-poll

Where there is a substantial difference between public and expert opinion is in their attitudes towards immigration.

immigration-poll-ir-experts-vs-public

This is clearly primarily a class thing. For IR experts, more immigrants means cheap Hispanic workers and a vague personal sense of moral superiority. For the average population, it means downwards pressure on low-skill wages and a strong personal sense of cultural inundation.

Of course, do take all this with the requisite amount of salt. So far as foreign relations and immigration are concerned, since everyone is an expert and there are no real sanctions to being wrong (no skin in the game as Nassim N. Taleb would say), almost all but the most vague predictions turn out to be wrong. Of course this would apply to myself too.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Futurism, Immigration, Opinion Poll 

RosieTheRoboteerThis conference is organized by brain health and IQ researcher Hank Pellissier, and its aim is to bring all kinds of quirky and visionary folks – “Biohackers, Neuro-Optimists, Extreme Futurists, Philosophers, Immortalist Artists, Steal-the-Singularitarians” – together in one place and have them give speeches and interact with each other and the interested public.

One of the lecturers is going to be Aubrey de Grey, the guy who almost singlehandedly transformed radical life extension into a “respectable” area of research, so it’s shaping up to be a Must-Not-Miss event for NorCal futurists.

Also in attendance will be Zoltan Istvan, bestselling author of The Transhumanist Wager, and Rich Lee, the famous biohacker and grinder. The latter will bring a clutch of fellow grinders and switch-blade surgeons with him to perform various modification procedures on the braver and more visionary among us.

Your humble servant will also be speaking. The preliminary title of my speech is “Cliodynamics: Moving Psychohistory from Science Fiction to Science.” Other conference speakers include RU Sirius, Rachel Haywire, Randal A. Koene, Apneet Jolly, Scott Jackisch, Shannon Friedman, Hank Pellissier, Roen Horn, and Maitreya One.

Time/Location: February 1, 2014 (Saturday) from 9:30am-9:30pm at the Firehouse, Fort Mason, 2 Marina Blvd., in San Francisco.

Buy Tickets:

Tickets are on sale from November 1-30 for $35. Only 100 tickets are available due to limited seating. In December tickets will cost $40 (if they’re still available). In January they’ll cost $45, with $49 the at-the-door price.

To obtain a ticket, PayPal $35 to account # hedonistfuturist@aol.com – include your name. You will quickly receive a receipt that you can print out as your ticket, and your name will be added to the guest list.

Below is a photo gallery of everyone on the lecture list and some further details:

Extras & Freebies:

  • SPECIAL PERKS – FREE PIRACETAM & CREATINE (limited amount) + BULLETPROOF COFFEE [TM] AVAILABLE + UPGRADED CHOCOLATE
  • RICH LEE PROMISES RFID IMPLANTS AVAILABLE for stoic volunteers + he’s bringing his HALLUCINATION MACHINE (“A clutch of Grinders and switch-blade surgeons will be in attendance to perform various modification procedures. Whether it is physical, mental, or emotional, we promise this presentation will leave everyone with some kind of scar!”)
  • HANK PELLISSIER will encourage the mob to select policy for a “NEURO-OPTIMAL UTOPIA” – heated disagreements guaranteed
  • NEW GUEST – FROM HARLEM – MAITREYA ONE will rap his transhumanist Hip Hop songs
  • Brain Healthy “ketogenic” food will be available at the conference – avocados, hardboiled eggs, walnuts, olives, coconut oil, etc. Biohack and QS research will be featured on display tables, alongside transhumanist t-shirts.

Additional Questions: Contact brighterbrainsinstitute AT gmail DOT com (3 volunteers with technical skills are needed, if you can help with sound and visual equipment).

Sponsors: The Bulletproof Executive (aka IT businessman/biohacker Dave Asprey, he of the Bulletproof Coffee mentioned above) is the lead sponsor. Brighter Brains Institute and East Bay Futurists are co-sponsors.

(Reprinted from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 

One of the standard memes about Russia’s demographic trajectory was the “Russian Cross.” While at the literal level it described the shape of the country’s birth rate and death rate trajectories, a major reason why it entered the discourse was surely because it also evoked the foreboding of the grave.

russian-cross

But this period now appears to have come to a definitive end. Russia’s population ceased falling around at about 2009; in the past year, it has increased by over 400,000 thanks to net immigration.

Meanwhile, against all general expectations, the birth rates and death rates have essentially equalized. Whereas in 2011 natural decrease was still at a substantial 131,000, preliminary figures indicate that it has subsided to a mere 2,573 for this year. It could just as easily turn positive once the figures are revised. For all intents and purposes, the “Russian Cross” has become the “Russian Hexagon.”

russian-hexagon

This is a momentous landmark in many ways.

(1) More than anything else, Russia’s demographic crisis during the past two decades has been advanced as a quintessential element of its decline. Phrases such as the aforementioned “Russian cross”, the “demographic death spiral”, and “”the dying bear” proliferated in respectable journals and books. Until a few years ago, some entirely serious demographic projections had Russia’s population falling to as low as 130 million by 2015. This “deathbed demography” imagery was in turn exploited by many journalists to implicit condemn the rottenness of the Russian state in general and Putin in particular. Will they now rush to trumpet Russia’s demographic recovery, which was only possible through directed state intervention to improve the population’s health, cut down on the alcohol epidemic, and provide generous benefits for families with second children? For some reason I suspect the amount of ink that will be spilt on this will be but a tiny, minuscule fraction of that used to herald Russia’s demographic apocalypse. They will predictably move on to other failures and inadequacies – both real or perceived.

(2) For many years there has existed the notion among some demographers that once a society’s total fertility falls to a “lowest-low” level, there can be no return. It was theorized that the social values of childlessness and small families would spread, and that the resultant rapid aging would make it impossible for young families to have many children anyway. Russia’s total fertility rate fell to a record low of 1.16 children per woman in 1999, but rose above 1.30 in 2006, reached 1.61 in 2011, and rose further to an estimated 1.70 in 2012. It is thus so far the biggest and most important exception to this “lowest-low fertility trap hypothesis.” In reality, what was actually happening was that many Russian women were postponing the formation of families – a process common to most nations that reach a certain level of development. This in turn laid the foundations for the mini-baby boom that were are now seeing.

(3) There was likewise widespread pessimism that Russia’s life expectancy would ever significantly improve for the better. In the best case, it was assumed it would creep upwards, reaching 70 years or so in another few decades. However, the experience of other regions with Russia’s mortality profile, such as North Karelia in the 1980′s or the Baltic states in the 2000′s – very high death rates among middle aged men who drank too much – suggested that rapid improvements are possible with the right mix of policy interventions. This has happened. Russia’s life expectancy in 2012 was about 71 years, still nothing to write home about; however, it was higher than it ever was in the USSR, where it reached a peak of 70.0 years at the height of Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign in 1987, and equal to Estonia’s in 2002, Hungary’s in 1998, and Finland’s in 1973. If it were now to follow in Estonia’s mortality trajectory – and this is not an unreasonable supposition, considering Russia is now passing the tough anti-alcohol and anti-smoking taxes and regulations typical of developed countries – it would be on track to reach a life expectancy of 75 years by 2020 (Putin’s goal of 2018 is however probably too optimistic).

russia-deaths-from-external-causes

In particular, it should be noted that the worst types of deaths – those from external causes – have been cut down the most radically. Though they only account for a small proportion of total deaths, they tend to happen at earlier ages and thus have a significant impact on the workforce and overall life expectancy out of proportion to their actual prevalence. A calculation from 2005 showed that the effect of a 40% decline in deaths from external causes would be as good as a 20% decline in deaths from all circulatory diseases at extending male life expectancy. This has been achieved; as of 2012 it was at 125/100,000, down from an average of about 250/100,000 during the “demographic crisis” period but still far, far short of the 40/100,000 rates more typical of developed countries with no alcoholism epidemics. But as I’ve said before and will say again, while Russia’s “hypermortality” crisis isn’t anywhere near as severe as it once was, it is nothing to write home about; a great deal remains to be done. But the trend-lines are pointing firmly down, and the economic crisis of 2009 had zero effect on the underlying processes. This is extremely encouraging, as it implies that Russia has now become a “normal country” in which improvements in health and mortality steadily advance regardless of economic fluctuations.

I have anticipated many of these developments, and indeed, ventured forth with projections of my own. Here are some predictions made on the basis of my research and analysis from 2008:

  1. Russia will see positive population growth starting from 2010 at the latest. CHECK.
  2. Natural population increase will occur starting from 2013 at the latest. CHECK.
  3. Russia’s total life expectancy will exceed 68 years by 2010 and reach 75 years by 2020. Looks increasingly LIKELY.

There is no need for false modesty. I put my neck on the line and came out best against most of the established expert opinion.

But this is no time to rest on laurels and reminsce on past glories. The 2010 Census is out. Demographic data up till 2012 is available. It’s been a long four years since I wrote that model. It is high time to update it. I’ve been planning to do that for my book anyway, but now that I think about it, why not publish a paper at the same time? I have long been a fan of open access anyway, especially as regards academia.

(Reprinted from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 

I just remembered I’d made some in 2012. It’s time to see how they went, plus make predictions for the coming year.

Of course I failed to predict the biggest thing of them all: The hacking that made me throw in the towel on Sublime Oblivion (remember that?), but with the silver lining that I could now split my blog between my interest in Russia and my interest in many other things. After all tying my criticism of the Western media on Russia with topics like climate change and futurism and HBD was never a very good fit. Overall I am very satisfied with the new arrangement.

Predictions For 2013

(1) Russia will see slight positive natural population growth (about 50,000) as well as significant overall population growth (about 400,000). Do bear in mind that this prediction was first made back in 2008 when a Kremlinologist who did the same would have been forced into a mental asylum.

(2) The life expectancy will reach 71.5 years, the total fertility rate will rise to 1.8. The birth rate will reach a local maximum at about 13.3-13.5 (it will then remain steady for a couple of years, and then begin to slowly decline) while the death rate will go down to about 13.0-13.2). Net immigration should remain at about 300,000.

(3) Putin will not be overthrown in a glorious democratic revolution. In fact, things will remain depressingly stable on the political front. As they should!

(4) Currently Russia is one of Europe’s most corrupt countries. While it’s certainly not at the level of Zimbabwe, as claimed in the Corruption Perceptions Index, it’s not like having the Philippines, Romania, or Greece for neighbors on an objective assessment is anything to write home about. I believe that Russia missed a great opportunity to undermine the rotten culture of official impunity that exists there by refraining from prosecuting former Moscow Mayor Luzhkov with his Montenegrin villa, billionaire wife, and his VP Mayor Resin who wore a $500,000 watch following his dismissal in 2010. Today a similar opportunity presents itself with blatant evidence of large-scale corruption on the part of former Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and his female hangers-on (see the comments threads here, here at the Kremlin Stooge for details). There are conflicting signals as to whether charges will extend to the very top, i.e. Serdyukov himself. Having incorrectly anticipated a Luzhkov prosecution, I am now once bitten, twice shy. So I’ll take the lame way out and call it a 50/50.

(5) Needless to say, the economy remains as uncertain as ever, and contingent upon what happens in the EU and the world. In the PIGS the economic contraction is finally starting to slow down, but Greece is something of a disaster zone, and Spain is raiding its pension fund to keep afloat. If this becomes unsustainable this year then the EU member states will have to make some fundamental choices: Fiscal union? Or its division into a “Hanseatic” core and Mediterranean periphery? Which of these three things will happen I find impossible to even begin to foretell… As applied to Russia, under the first two scenarios, it will continue plodding along at a stolid but unremarkable pace of 3-4% or so GDP growth; if things come to a head (as they eventually must) and Germany decides to toss the Latins overboard, then the divorce I assume is going to be very, very messy, and we can expect Russia’s economy to fall into recession.

(6) No special insights on foreign policy. Ukraine may join the Customs Union; however, I suspect that’s more likely to happen in 2014 or 2015, as Yanukovych faces re-election and has to make a choice between continued prevarication between it and the EU, and encouraging his Russophone base. The creeping influence of the Eurasian Union will likely keep US-Russian relations cold; whatever the current disagreement that’s talked about (Magnitsky Act; Dima Yakovlev Law; Syria; Libya…) I lean to the “Stratfor”-like position that at heart the US just does not want what it sees as a “re-Sovietization” of the region – which the Eurasian Union is, in geopolitical terms, if under conditions much softer than was previously the case – and will thus be driven, almost by force of instinct, to oppose this trend.

How did I do for 2012?

Here is the link again. In short, this wasn’t the best year for my predictions.

1. “So that’s my prediction for March: Putin wins in the first round with 60%, followed by perennially second-place Zyuganov at 15%-20%, Zhirinovsky with 10%, and Sergey Mironov, Mikhail Prokhorov and Grigory Yavlinsky with a combined 10% or so.I later ended up refining this, and running a contest. My predictions for the five candidates were off by an aggregate error of 14%. The heroic winner was Andras Toth-Czifra (who has yet to get his T-Shirt – my profound apologies dude, it will be done…) Half a point.

2. “I will also go ahead and say that I do not expect the Meetings For Fair Elections to make headway.” Correct, although this was self-evident to anyone not afflicted with Putin Derangement Syndrome (which admittedly doesn’t include 90% of Western Russia journalists). Full point.

3. Here I made general points that I still think fully apply. That said, my own specific prediction turned out to be false. “But specifically for 2012, I expect Greece to drop out of the Eurozone (either voluntarily, or kicked out if it starts printing Euros independently, as the former Soviet republics did with rubles as Moscow’s central control dissipated).” Wrong! I am perhaps foolhardy to do so, but I repeat this prediction for this year. I really don’t know why the Greeks masochistically agree to keep on paying tribute to French and German banks when they know full well they have no hope of ever significantly bringing down their debt-to-GDP ratio without major concessions on the parts of their creditors. Zero points.

4. Last year I made no major predictions about the Russian economy; basically, unexciting but stable if things stay normal – a downswing if the EU goes down, albeit not on as big a scale as in 2008-2009. I was basically correct. One point.

5. “I expect 2012 will be the year in which Ukraine joins the Eurasian common economic space.” Nope. To activate their Russophone base, they decided to go with the language law. Zero points.

6. “Russia’s demography. I expect births to remain steady or fall slightly… Deaths will continue to fall quite rapidly, as excise taxes on vodka – the main contributor to Russia’s high mortality rates – are slated to rise sharply after the Presidential elections.” Too pessimistic on births, albeit understandably so because Russia’s cohort of women in their child-bearing age has now begun to decline rapidly (the echo effect). Although ironically enough however I am one of the most optimistic serious Russia demographers. In reality, as of the first 10 months of 2012, births have soared by a further 6.5% (which translates to a c.8% increase in the TFR, bringing it up from 1.61 in 2011 to about 1.74 this year – that’s about the level of Canada and the Netherlands – while deaths have fallen by 1.5%, implying a rise in life expectancy from 70.3 years in 2011 to about 71 years in 2012 (which is a record). Most remarkably the rate of natural population growth is now basically break-even, with birth rates and death rates both at about 13.3/1000; the so-called “Russian cross” has become a rhombus. Still, considering that my predictions were basically more optimistic than anyone else’s (even Mark Adomanis’), I still feel justified in calling this n my favor. One point.

So, that’s 3.5/6 for the Russia predictions. I will be very brief on the non-Russia related ones, as this is a Russia blog.

7. Wrong, Romney did not win LOL. Although later I did improve greatly, coming 12th out of 66 in a competition to predict the results of the US popular vote. I now owe a few bottles of whiskey to various people.

8. US did not attack Iran, but I gave it a 50% chance anyway. So, half point?

9. “But I will more or less confidently predict that global oil production in 2012 will be a definite decrease on this year.” Too early to tell.

10. “China will not see a hard landing.” Correct.

11. “Record low sea ice extent and volume. And perhaps 100 vessels will sail the Northern Sea Route this year.More like 46 vessels, and completely correct on extreme new sea ice lows.

12. “Tunisia is the only country of the “Arab Spring” that I expect to form a more or less moderate and secular government.” I think that’s basically correct.

13. Protests will not lead to any major changes outside the Arab world – yes.

14. “The world will, of course, end on December 21, 2012.” Correct, we’re now living in a simulation, the real world having ended as I predicted.

(Reprinted from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 

Editorial note: This article was first published at Arctic Progress in February 2011. In the next few weeks I will be reposting the best material from there.

The Arctic to become a pole of global economic growth? Image credit – Scenic Reflections.

Behold! Far north along the shores of the Arctic a quiver of upspringing settlements fringes the coast. Boats swarm around canning factories, smoke flutters above smelters, herds of reindeer dot the prairies… And here or there, on every street-corner, glimmer out the lights of theaters where moving-pictures entertain white people through the sunless weeks of the midwinter dancing-time, the singing-time, the laughing-time of Eskimo Land.

- Northward ho!: An account of the far North and its people.

In 2003, Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill wrote the now famous paper Dreaming with BRIC’s, predicting that Brazil, Russia, India and China would overtake the developed G8 nations within a few decades and make astounding returns for faithful investors. The BRIC’s concept entered the conventional wisdom, spawning a host of related acronyms (BASIC, BRICSA, etc) – and if anything, realizing its promise well ahead of schedule. Last year, China’s real GDP possibly overtook America’s, and Russia’s approached Germany’s.

Yet for all their successes, the BRIC’s may not fulfill their expected roles as the stars of the global economy in the 21st century. The level of education is horrid in Brazil and atrocious in India; without the requisite human capital, these two countries will find it difficult to rapidly “converge” to developed world standards. China is much better off in this respect, but its high growth trajectory may in turn be disturbed by energy shortages and environmental degradation. China produces half the world’s coal, which is patently unsustainable given its limited reserves. But since coal accounts for 75% of China’s primary energy consumption and fuels the factories that keep its workforce employed, there is little it can do to mitigate this dependence. Meanwhile, China’s overpopulation, pollution and climate change predicament is so well known as to not require elaboration. Many other countries flirting around the edges of BRIC status – Indonesia, South Africa, Vietnam, etc. – face serious challenges in the form of low human capital, uncertain energy and food supplies and a rising incidence of AGW-induced droughts, floods and heatwaves.

There is one global region that may hold the key to resolving these intertwined problems – and even to become a major pole of global growth in its own right. For the most part, it is now an empty wilderness, but climate change is opening it up as potential living space. Its exploitation has the potential to halve the length of global freight transport routes while increasing their security, uncover sizable to gigantic new sources of hydrocarbons and minerals, and stabilize global food prices through the expansion of arable land. Its experience of management and conflict resolution may inspire a global model of cooperation – or it may degenerate into an economic, legal, or even military battlefield over shipping routes and sub-sea resources.

This global region is the Arctic Rim, and its adjoining ARCS: Alaska, Russia, Canada, and Scandinavia. The ARCS of Progress in the 21st century.

Arctic sea ice extent on September 1, 2010 – both the Northern Sea Route and the Northwest Passage are clearly open. Image credit – The University of Illinois Cryosphere Today.

From North Pole to Growth Pole

The core reasons behind the Arctic Rim’s bright prospects are global macro-trends: climate change; peak oil and resource nationalism; overpopulation in the South. These “push” and “pull” factors will induce a decades-long Arctic boom, starting with shipping, energy and mining, and culminating in a fundamental northwards shift of the center of the world economy. Let’s examine each of these in turn.

Breaking Ice For Shipping

Ah, for just one time I would take the Northwest Passage
To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea
Tracing one warm line through a land so wild and savage
And make a northwest passage to the sea.

- Northwest Passage song, Stan Rogers, 1981.

Typically, the cryosphere – the frozen part of the world – remains stable, because its snow and ice reflect much of the Sun’s heat, thus cooling itself. This process is called the ice-albedo feedback.

However, when the high-albedo ice melts, it leaves behind darker-hued earth, flora or sea that absorb far more heat. Local air temperatures soar and inhibit the reformation of the ice during cold seasons. From working to keep the system stable, beyond a critical threshold the ice-albedo feedback begins to reinforce a runaway dynamic of melting and warming.

The ice-albedo feedback largely explains why the Arctic is warming about twice faster than in the world as a whole.

In summer 2007, Arctic sea ice extent fell 38% below average since records began – an area the size of six Californias. The next year saw both the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route clear of ice for a short period in late summer. As of December 2010, sea ice extent was the lowest for the month on satellite record, even surpassing the 2007 melt.

While the relentless fall in sea ice extent over the past three decades is remarkable enough, what’s stunning is the 55% decline in summer sea ice volume. Once the thick, multi-year ice is gone, then it’s really gone – the low albedo of the ocean water will raise local temperatures, preventing all but a thin film of sea ice from reforming during the cold winters. It is thus a near certainty that Arctic sea ice is already deep in its death spiral.

Inland, earlier snowmelts enable the ground to absorb more heat, while dark-hued shrubs and boreal forests encroach on the tundra.

Many of the effects will be negative. The polar bears will probably go extinct, either drowning for lack of sea ice, or starving, or migrating south and merging with their grizzly cousins. Invasive species from the south will drive out Arctic flora and fauna off the top of the world. Global ocean and air currents will be interrupted as the temperature differential between the Arctic and the tropics shrinks.

But the new Arctic merchants will be making a killing.

Shipping routes during ice-free Arctic summer . Image credit – Laurence C. Smith.

In 2010, the Baltica became the first high-tonnage tanker to sail with petroleum products by the Northern Sea Route, steaming from Murmansk to China. This was followed by the voyage of the MV Nordic Barents, the the first vessel to sail from one non-Russian port to another through the Arctic, cutting 5,000km off the traditional Suez route. It carried 41,000 tons of iron ore from Kirkenes, Norway to feed the steel mills of China. One upping them all, the year ended with the first round-trip voyage without icebreaker assistance via the Northern Sea Route. The Norilsk Nickel-owned ship Monchegorsk carried the metal from the north Siberian port of Dudinka to Shanghai, taking just 41 days of steaming (the Suez route would have lasted as long as four months).

The opening of the Northern Sea Route and rising demand for metals and petroleum products from China and other emerging markets is set to continue spurring the development of Arctic shipping. In January 2011, a Sovcomflot executive said the Russian shipping company has already received 15 requests for icebreaker assistance in the Arctic for this year, compared to just four in 2010*. The governor of Murmansk, Dmitry Dmitriyenko, predicts that cargo transport through the Northern Sea Route will increase tenfold by 2020. This expansion will be sustained with private investment funding: both Sovcomflot and the Port of Murmansk are to be partially privatized in the coming years.

Similar trends are in play with the opening of the Northwest Passage across Canada. It has been conquered by cruise ship in 2006 and the commercial ship MV Camilla Desgagnés in 2008. Exploitation of the Northwest Passage will likely go slower than of its north Eurasian counterpart, because of lower demand and the (relative) underdevelopment of Canada’s icebreaker fleet. But there is still a wealth of opportunities there.

Black Gold or Fool’s Gold at the Top of the World?

Use it or lose it is the first principle of Arctic sovereignty.

- Speech by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, 2007.

Our first and main task is to turn the Arctic into a resource base for Russia in the 21st century.

- Speech by Russian President Medvedev in September 2008.

Global oil production has now either peaked or is close to peaking, and will now either continue on its present “undulating plateau” – or begin to decline at an accelerating pace. The specifics are intensely argued over and the debate is far too extensive to detail here. But suffice to say, the “cornucopian” position that technological ingenuity and market forces will always conjure more and more resources out of a finite planet is untenable.

Any number of factors – global production exceeding new discoveries since the mid-1980′s; the world’s inability to significantly ramp up oil production despite soaring prices for the commodity; the rising costs of oil production due to the falling EROEI of the remaining oil sources; massively inflated reserves numbers from OPEC members; growing resource nationalism – militate against a business-as-usual future of increasing production in the oil industry.

These mounting challenges are the reason the big oil majors are pushing into the deepwater drilling that produced the Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, and partnering with Russian state oil companies to develop offshore gas deposits in the Kara Sea, and sinking millions of US dollars on prospecting off Greenland despite no returns to date. They need to maintain their reserves numbers to prevent their stocks from tanking – but to do so, the oil majors are forced into taking escalating financial, environmental and political risks.

The Arctic’s natural resources. Image credit – Global Research.

In 2008, the US Geological Survey estimated that the Arctic may hold as much as 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil (90 billion barrels) and 30% of its undiscovered natural gas. Unsurprisingly, the Arctic is rapidly becoming central to oil exploration. That said, capitalizing on these resources – even assuming they are as big as estimated above – will be exceptionally difficult. For a start, some 84% of these sources are likely to be offshore. Second, according to more recent USGS calculations, developing them will be prohibitively expensive: “Assuming production costs of up to $100 per barrel, only 2.5 billion barrels of oil could be lifted… and only with a 50% probability.” For perspective, an average oil price of $92 per barrel broke the world economy in 2008.

Talk of the Arctic becoming the next Saudi Arabia is unrealistic. Its oil reserves are smaller, more dispersed, more remote, of worse quality, and far more challenging to exploit. But this isn’t to say that its black gold is fool’s gold. Technological progress on Arctic drilling, as well as a lack of better options elsewhere, will draw Western oil majors and National Oil Companies north.

The Arctic isn’t only of interest to shippers and oilmen. Confronted with inexorable rises in demand from China, the global mining industry is rushing to add metals and minerals production capacity wherever they can. Just to take a few Arctic examples, there are plans to start or expand iron ore production on Canada’s Baffin Island, Norway’s Kirkenes and the Kola Peninsula. Coal production is resuming at Svalbard. Just in case the whole oil thing doesn’t work out, Greenland is looking to exploit its potentially vast mineral resources. The Coeur d`Alene Mines Corporation recently opened a gold mine near Juneau, Alaska ahead of schedule. Though volumes remain small, this will change as depletion becomes as evident for minerals as it is now for oil.

Towards an Arctic Civilization?

… Before this century is over billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable.

- James Lovelock, inventor of the Gaia hypothesis.

Beginning with the shipping and energy industries, the influence of the Arctic will eventually come to encompass the entire world. Assuming that efforts to quickly cut greenhouse gas emissions are unsuccessful, and that geoengineering is either not attempted or doesn’t work, then many of the middle regions will become too hot and dry for sustained agriculture (and maybe human survival), and masses of climate refugees will try to migrate north. The center of global economic growth, politics, and perhaps – in the far future – population, will come to rest within the Arctic Circle.

The North Pole may become the spatial center of the world. Image source – Trausti Valsson.

This process will likely be accompanied by mass upheavals, societal collapses, famines, border conflicts, maybe even bigger wars. But as usual misery contains the seeds of opportunity. It is not impossible that the farsighted individuals who are now buying up Hudson Bay territories or Siberian riverside lands are positioning themselves or their heirs for lordships and kingdoms in 2200.

But let’s focus on just the next three decades. The opening of the Arctic by various “push” factors (overpopulation, global warming) and “pull” factors (shipping routes, resources) will create demand for infrastructure, housing, associated services, etc. Buying up strategic lands, routes and infrastructure in the Arctic region offers one of the best, and most overlooked, rates of return in the world today. Take inspiration from OmniTRAX, a Colorado-based company that bought the derelict Port of Churchill and its railway from the Manitoba government for a bargain basement price of $10 in 1998. Now that Hudson Bay has become clear of sea ice during the summer, these assets are receiving tens of millions of dollars of investment from the Canadian government.

How can you benefit from the coming Arctic boom? In the coming years, Russia is going to partially privatize lucrative state assets, such as shipping company Sovcomflot and the Port of Murmansk (which handles 60% of shipping across the Northern Sea Route). New ports, roads, railways, pipelines, mines, dams, oil and gas fields, aluminium smelters, LNG plants, etc. are springing up over the entire region.

Enter the ARCS of Progress: Why Alaska, Russia, Canada, and Scandinavia are Positioned to Dominate the Polar-Centric World

Идут на Север срока огромные,
Кого ни спросишь – у всех указ…
Взгляни, взгляни
В глаза мои суровые,
Взгляни, быть может, в последний раз.

- Soviet GULAG song, 1947.

O Canada!

Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!

- National Anthem of Canada.

Watching the economic news these days is a sure path route to depression. Anywhere you seem to look in the developed world there are awning budget deficits, soaring debts, depressed output, and stagnation. We’ve established that putting your money into the PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain) isn’t such a good idea. But the US is the “safe haven,” right? Unfortunately, its fiscal sustainability indicators are actually worse than the PIGS average. In 2009, the US got $0.6 in tax revenue for every $1 of outlays, or a receipt-to-outlay ratio of 0.6; the equivalent ratio for the PIGS was 0.78. Maybe Japan? With a 0.52 receipt-to-outlay ratio, it makes the US look like a paragon of fiscal discipline.

But within all that mess there’s a few, sparkling gems. Not only are they at the heart of the opening Arctic, but they are all excellent investment destinations on their own merits. They are the ARCS countries: Alaska, Russia, Canada, and Scandinavia.

Alaska

In contrast to the rest of the US, Alaska was barely dented by the economic crisis, its GDP declining by just 0.3% in 2009 and recovering 0.6% in 2010. Employment is lower than the US average. While states like California and Illinois flirt with state bankruptcy, Alaska has accumulated $40 billion in its Permanent Fund. Finally, it is – along with Greenland – the most demographically vigorous of the Arctic states, with a total fertility rate of 2.32 children per woman in 2006. It won’t be afflicted by the First World’s looming aging crises any time soon. Alaska is well set to fulfill its motto: “North to the Future!”

Russia

Though the poorest of the ARCS, Russia is also its fastest growing one, with 5% annual GDP growth during 2001-2010. Its high level of human capital (around 70% of Russians continue to higher education, a First World rate), vast resource wealth and decent macroeconomic management set it on a promising path to convergence with developed countries.

Additionally, Russia has a predominant population, economic and military presence in the Arctic. The Murmansk region by itself has more people than all of Alaska, while the Russian Northern Fleet is by far the strongest Arctic force. State policy is to transform the Arctic into Russia’s “strategic resource base” within the next decade.

Criticisms of Russia’s prospects typically center on allusions to its “Zaire with permafrost”-like corruption levels, plummeting population, crumbling infrastructure, “legal nihilism” and Putinist authoritarianism. While each of these has a grain of truth, taking them as gospel fundamentally misrepresents the country. For a start, if Russia really was more corrupt than Nigeria or Zimbabwe – as implied by Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index – then it would still be deep in debt as in the late 1990′s, and its $480 billion foreign currency reserves would be in Cayman Islands accounts instead of the Central Bank’s vaults.

What about Russia’s demographic “death spiral”? A quick glance at Rosstat will show that its population grew in 2009, and that its total fertility rate, at 1.6 children per woman, is now higher than the European average.

One can spend pages upon pages unraveling the double standards, misrepresentations and outright lies which the Western media and political class use to attack Russia. But if you’re unconvinced, and refuse to buy into Russia’s undervalued market on principle, it’s your loss.

As t he professional Russia investor Eric Kraus wrote in Business Week in July 2010, “Russian markets are fashion victims, and are currently both unfashionable and cheap. You can own them now, or wait and buy the next time they surge back into vogue. And I will be selling out just about then.” I’d trust him – that’s exactly what he did in 2008!

Canada

Canada combines the American spirit of free enterprise, with a greater safety net and social mobility. It is also on far better fiscal footing. In 2010, its cyclically adjusted primary budget deficit was -2.7% of GDP (US: -7.0%), and its net debt was 32.7% of GDP (US: 65.2%; Japan: 104.6%). Possessing huge energy, mineral and freshwater reserves, as well as a well-educated and growing population, it is surely one of the better investment bets in the developed world.

Scandinavia (and Nordic)

The Nordic region is one of the richest, most educated and socially cohesive on Earth, frequently coming at or near the top in any global index of freedom, social mobility, environmental sustainability, and technological modernity.

In 2010, Sweden’s GDP grew the fastest in Europe at a blistering 5.2%, while maintaining a balanced budget throughout the crisis. Norway’s fortunes are far more directly tied to its oil industry, but peak oil, excellent state management of reserves and a low population make for bright prospects. Norway is the second richest European country after the banking center of Luxembourg.

Even apparent basketcases like Iceland may be a good investment to buy up on the cheap. While its international banking career might be over, it still has massive freshwater and geothermal energy reserves, that make it an attractive center for energy-intensive industries such as aluminium smelters.

Finally, contrary to right-wing depictions of social democracies as retirement homes full of effete, aging liberals, all the Nordic states have fertility rates that preclude major aging crises (they range from 1.8 children per woman in Finland to 2.2 in Greenland).

The Arctic when all the ice melts.

From an Ultimate Dim Thule…

By a route obscure and lonely,
Haunted by ill angels only,
Where an Eidolon, named Night,
On a black throne reigns upright,
I have reached these lands but newly
From an ultimate dim Thule —
From a wild weird clime, that lieth, sublime,
Out of Space — out of Time.

- Dreamland by Edgar Allen Poe.

Even in our day, science suspects beyond the Polar seas, at the very circle of the Arctic Pole, the existence of a sea which never freezes and a continent which is ever green.

- The mystic H. P. Blavatsky.

Before the rise of the world economy, spatial perspectives were local, at most extending to the boundaries of their cultural sphere or world-empire: The Ecumene for the Ancient Greeks and Romans; Dar al-Islam for the Muslims; Christendom for the Franks; the Great Wall for the Chinese. Medieval European geographers referred to any lands beyond the borders of the known world as Ultima Thule.

Globalization from the 19th century bound the entire world together, for the first time in history, but its flows and links of labor, capital and commodities passed the Arctic by. Unattractive to sustained private investment, the region’s development was always fitful and unbalanced, from the Yukon Gold Rush that petered out almost as suddenly as it flared up; to the penal camps, subsidized settlements and military bases of the Soviet Arctic, now decaying away except where hydrocarbons extraction has thrown them a lifeline.

But now the world is changing. No longer will opening the Arctic have to be a hubristic project, as with the chiliastic visions of Soviet planners; or a costly and unprofitable strategic necessity, as with the Cold War submarine patrols beneath the Arctic sea ice or the bomber flights over it. Today, it is global macro-trends such as global warming, resource depletion and overpopulation that will ensure the rapid but organic development of the Arctic.

With the growing human presence, the Arctic will inevitably begin to lose its luster of mysticism, foreboding and darkness. As the years turn into decades, and 2050 approaches, the polar-centric view of the world will become increasingly central to human spatial consciousness. The world’s trade, energy and capital flows will have been largely rerouted north.

The ARCS of Progress, their numbers swelled by climate refugees, and their economies bolstered by a flood of capital investment, will be amongst the leading Powers in the world. This assumes they retain their present political configurations. For instance, could an independent Greenland, with just 56,000 people today, retain its own national identity? Facing resource shortages and droughts in the south, would China encroach on the Russian Far East? Would the US try to assimilate Canada?

Whatever the answers to these questions, one thing is near certain. The vision of a northern Ultima Thule is dissipating, and will soon dissolve altogether (thought teh concept may be resurrected to describe a desolate, uninhabitable South many hundreds of years into an extreme AGW future). In its place there will emerge a polar world-economy of open seas, farms and growing cities by 2050.

There will arise an Arctic ecumene.

* According to more recent data, there were 34 transits of the Northern Sea Route in 2011, up from just 4 in 2010; with 820,000 tons of goods transported relative to 111,000 tons in 2010. Volumes are predicted to double again this year. This goes in tandem with record breaking sea ice melt in 2012.

Edit Jan 28, 2013: There were a record-breaking 46 vessels making the transit through the NSR this year.

(Reprinted from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 

In the Japanese TV series Dennō Coil, people wear Internet-connected augmented reality glasses and interact with a world that is now split between the real and the virtual. Citizens and netizens become one. The story is set in 2026, some eleven years after the introduction of this technology.

Considering that this series was first conceived of in 1997, the dates are remarkable accurate. Recently it was revealed that Google is working on a “Project Glass” that will become available to consumers for a cool $1,500 from late 2013 or early 2014.

Needless to say the usual cynics and technophobes have been making fun of the idea, going on about the ethical problems of facial recognition, announcing they will boycott the technology (yeah right), etc. I am unconcerned with all this. As with other mega-trends like global demography or climate change, contrary opinions are like a flimsy shack against an advancing tide, in other words, irrelevant. Fortunately, for the most part, technological revolutions increase wellbeing and are useful anyway.

In my opinion, the decisive technological development of the 2000′s was the mass proliferation of cell phones. In the late 1990′s, only a small percentage of people in developed countries had access to them, as well as a handful of businesspeople and high officials in the developing world. Today they are ubiquitous with global penetration at over 70%. Apart from making people much more connected – I can barely remember the days when one actually had to make strict appointments in advance – the sector also powered a mini-economic boom for both designers (Nokia, Samsung, etc), their manufacturing contractors in China, and the ecosystem of app developers they spawned in places like the Silicon Valley.

The augmented reality eyeglass revolution will be of similar or even greater scope. What is now almost unheard of outside the techosphere will begin to break out into the public consciousness by the mid-2010′s; substantial numbers of the global middle class will start wearing them by the late 2010′s; and by the mid-2020′s, this will be a thriving global industry with tons of spinoffs and applications. So much so that a proper name will surely have to be found for these glasses. Intelligent glasses? AReyes? Thinking goggles? Denno glasses? I like the sound of the last one so I’ll be using it until the term catches on or another replaces it.

The historical penetration of cell phones. I suspect denno glasses will follow the same trajectory, plus two decades.

Anyway why exactly do I think they will be so revolutionary? Simply because of the absolutely seamless and compact way they will integrate with and augment everyday life and the other aspects of Internet features (Google Search, Wikipedia, social networks, etc) that already enrich it. Here is a list of how different activities will change:

(1) Facial recognition. Have you ever had this awkward situation where you meet some person (or worse romantic prospect) whose name you can’t quite recall? No more problems as long as they are plugged into Facebook, Google+, etc. Facebook already has fairly good face recognition technologies as per when you tag photos so integrating this with denno glasses will be a breeze.

(2) Social networking. Which leads us to the next big revolution – meeting someone, and having a list of relevant information appear beside his or her name. This will be highly useful as it will enable one to better optimize their social interaction. Privacy concerns are irrelevant; the technology doesn’t cardinally change anything in this regard, it only makes the process of recognition and information gathering far quicker and more efficient.

(3) Geolocation. So you find yourself hanging out by yourself? The world is a small place. Quite possibly some of your friends or acquaintances may be nearby; you will know if they choose to switch their locations on. This possibility already exists on smart phones but you actually have to bring up the program which is a spot of bother and the main reason I rarely use the feature. But if this feature is literally staring in your face all day…

(4) Translation. Text is a breeze: Just look at something, and Google Translate will give you the general gist of it. Same goes for Chinese Hanzi for which as I mentioned there already exists instant translation software on the iPhone. Speech recognition will create more trouble, as machines will first have to transcribe it into indigenous language text before spitting out the appropriate translation. This will require half a decade to a decade of tweaking to perfect. Nonetheless, denno glasses may well be the greatest technological aid to learning foreign languages since the invention of alphabets.

(5) Livestream your life. Not the kind of thing I would do, at least unless I’m doing something very cool like shredding snow on a double diamond or picking up an HB10, but if it floats your boat why not?

(6) Cloud memory. Have a great view that you want to take a picture of? Get an original thought that you will soon forget if you don’t jot it down in your Moleskin? Denno glasses can record both.

(7) Events. Concerts, wine tastings, friends’ birthdays… all in very close proximity.

(8) Real time performance monitoring. Get an instant heads-up display of heart rate, distance covered, calories burned, etc, etc, with just a couple of sensors attached to your body. Needless to say, this will also allow perfect performance tracking. This is extremely important because monitoring yourself improving is very inspirational when losing weight, getting big, etc.

(9) Learning. With the advent of Internet technology, cognitive patterns are changing. Older people have wonderful memories; younger people are much better at recalling how to access a piece of information, as opposed to actually committing it to memory. Neither method is superior to the other – they are products of different technological environments. Denno glasses will put the final nail in the coffin of the old, memory-intensive way of thought. But they will also be of great practical help. Learning to drive a car? Fly a helicopter? Denno glasses can actively give you hints and solutions just as happens in the tutorial modes of video games.

(10) Knowledge. If Wikipedia is a single voice command away…

(11) Gaming. This is going to be huge. Imagine what you could do if you could populate the real world with virtual objects that can be perceived with denno glasses. Create a real life Stalker simulation in the shadows of Chernobyl. Organize Western-style shootouts in the dozens of abandoned dustbowl towns of inner California. Instigate a zombie outbreak in New York or Los Angeles. (That might not be such a good idea actually what with the potential for car accidents…). This is coming soon:

So what should gamers expect from the final Oculus RIFT product? “Imagine an HMD with a massive field of view and more pixels than 1080p per eye, wireless PC link, built in absolute head and hand/weapon/wand positioning, and native integration with some (if not all) of the major game engines, all for less than $1,000 USD. That can happen in 2013!”

Still, I see the emergence of numerous “game arenas”, in the style of paintball areas: Just bring your denno glasses, pay for day access and (electronic) gun rent, and off you go! Once people (virtually) die, the HUD can start representing them as translucent “ghosts” to avoid confusion. Similar games already exist for smartphones like Zombie, Run! but with denno glasses the feeling will be much more… visceral.

(12) New ways of seeing the world. See the city in wireframe X-ray vision – much more efficient way of navigating it than using maps. Look up at the sky and see the names of all the stars and constellations just as you can with the Google Sky Map. Look at famous landmarks or natural wonders and get instant information about their history, dimensions, how many of your friends visited them, etc.

(13) And even more new ways of seeing the world. See virtual re-enactments of historical scenes. See ads while passing by corporate areas (ugh). This will take time to develop but by 2030 I suspect a lot of the visions of augmented reality in Minority Report will have been realized.

(14) Semantic Webs. In tandem with this revolution, we also have the emergence of the “semantic web.” Cell phones are a huge phenomenon. Denno glasses are more integrated with people; more integrated with the Web; and the Web itself is steadily becoming far more useful and intelligent.

(15) Economic opportunities. For most rich country citizens (those not in the 1%) the 2010′s and 2020′s will be grim because limited global resources and competition from China will mean that their share of the global economic pie will shrink not only in relative but absolute terms. Nonetheless, some niches – especially the hi-tech and dematerialized – will continue seeing very impressive growth and possibilities for vast new fortunes.

The App Revolution meant that anybody with even fairly basic programming skills could begin making apps for the Droid or iPhone. Everything from wake up alarms to Hanzi flashcards to Angry Birds to Zombie, Run!. The mass penetration of denno glasses will recreate the same conditions and if anything on a much larger scale because they are likely to become even more central to human life than cell phones are today. I foresee a lot of millionaires and probably a few billionaires arising from this industry in the next two decades. I can think of few things more prospective today for the high-IQ and logically-minded than mastering computer programming and becoming deeply involved with the emerging world of Dennō Coil.

None of this is science fiction – indeed, I have avoided the more sci-fi like development scenarios, which are unlikely to be realized before 2030. The prototypes for denno glasses already exist, and they go into mass production very soon. The first versions will no doubt be buggy and slow, unable to process data quickly, however with time – with the further development of ubiquitous ultra-fast broadband wireless Internet, cloud computing, etc. – these issues will be ironed out and denno glasses will become an integral element of life in the early 21st century.

PS. This article was translated into Russian at Inosmi.

(Reprinted from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 

This guy Andrew Miller used to be The Economist’s Moscow correspondent. This is his prediction from 2000. I also imagine he’d get on splendidly with K.F./Keif. No further comment is necessary. (h/t Patrick Armstrong)

JRL 4331
#9
From: “andrew miller”
Subject: The Gathering Storm
Date: Sun, 28 May 2000

Topic: The Gathering Storm

Title: The Oblast of Russia?

… New predictions: Vladimir Putin will not leave power in 2004 or 2008 no matter the results of any election. He will die in office like Brezhnev unless he is ousted like Krushchev in favor of someone like Brezhnev. Within five years, there will be no independent media in Russia (as if there is any now, but according to a recent New York Times editorial in the JRL, there is, so I guess there must be; just wish The Times had told me which kiosk to look in…) Within five years, Russia will absorb Belarus and Georgia (a revised constitution will eliminate the two-term limit for presidents; even if this is not done, Russians will reelect, as that term will come to be defined, Putin as many times as he likes notwithstanding the constitution). Russia will not allow Ukraine to join NATO or the EU and may, within 10 years, forcibly reincorporate Ukraine into the Russia fold if it can substantially improve its military during that time, which it will be able to do only should Western or Asian nations resume lending it piles of cash. In any case, it will do anything it can to prevent such a thing.

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a ptitsa! It’s a MiG! No, it’s supergubernator! Within five years, the new supergovernors will have consolidated their power and obliterated the existing concept of federalsim. Within ten years, the supergovernors will have themselves been consolidated into a single new oblast, called Russia. Putin, of course, had been planning to implement his super-governor regime for quite some time (or at least one hopes it was not spontaneous). Yet, he did not mention it during his campaign for president. Conveniently, nobody asked him about it then, and nobody is saying anything now.

According to what passes for logic in the Kremlin now, telling the people what you plan for the future, debates, political advertising, these are all dirty aspects of what might be called capitalist propaganda in politics, aspects which from which Putin has bravely managed to free a grateful nation.

Within twenty years, Russia will make Yugoslavia today look like paradise lost…

Andrew Miller
St. Petersburg, Russia

Well, I guess he’s still marginally better than our other star from The Economist, our good friend Edward Lucas, who in 1998 predicted that “Russian rouble would collapse to 10,000/$, the economy would contract by at least 25%,the Communist hordes would sweep through Moscow taking the Kremlin, as the RussianFederation – held together with string and sticky-tape – broke up into four nuclear-armed, mutually antagonistic sovereign mini-states.” When that didn’t pan out he started writing fantasy short stories about the Dark Lord Putin and Mordor-Russia.

Now I may not have been the best Russia forecaster in the past 5 years, notching up failures (Putin 2012) as well as successes (everything on demography). Nonetheless I have yet to be as wildly, maniacally wrong as The Economist’s two star Russia journalists and would like to think that if I ever am I will at least have the integrity to give up on this whole Russia watching thing.

Then again unlike most Western journalists I don’t live by the motto, “Russia is a country that no matter what you say about it, it is true.”

(Reprinted from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
 
András Tóth-Czifra, our heroic winner.

András Tóth-Czifra, our heroic winner.

Before the 2012 Russian Presidential elections, 23 particularly courageous (or foolhardy?) netizens and Russia watchers participated in a contest on this blog to predict its results for the chance of eternal glory and a free S/O T-Shirt.

The winner is the person with the least aggregate error, i.e. the sum of the absolute discrepancies between his or hers prediction and the official tally for each of the candidates, as well as the percentage of spoiled ballots. With 99%+ of the votes counted, it is now safe to announce the winners.

Ladies and gentlemen, please give it up for… András Tóth-Czifra!

Contestant Aggregate Error (%)
Andras Toth-Czifra 7.94
Mark Sleboda 9.84
PK 10.30
Juha Savolainen 10.54
Hunter 11.82
Moscow Exile 12.34
Mark Chapman 13.02
Gladstone 13.24
AK (i.e., me) 13.84
Andy Young 13.90
Tony 14.36
donyess 14.68
FyRuPolitics 15.23
Andor 15.90
NinaIvanovna 15.90
SH 15.90
Alex Mercouris 19.44
aap 22.48
Ernst Krenkel 25.16
Carl Thomson 27.46
Alexandre Latsa 29.54
Timothy Post 31.82
Alexey Sidorenko 39.16

Furthermore, not only did Andras have the best overall prediction, but he also called Putin’s result to within 0.5% points – also the best result. Hunter and Mark Sleboda were runners up.

VVZh GAZ SMM MDP VVP X
AK 3.27 0.19 3.65 1.82 4.76 0.15 13.8
showdown_2012 1.77 0.19 1.35 3.22 0.56 0.85 7.9
Mark Sleboda 2.77 2.19 2.15 0.82 1.76 0.15 9.8
Alex Sidorenko 0.77 8.81 9.15 4.82 14.76 0.85 39.2
Juha Savolainen 2.27 1.19 2.65 0.32 3.76 0.35 10.5
PK 1.67 1.49 2.25 0.88 3.66 0.35 10.3
Moscow Exile 0.17 0.49 4.15 3.22 2.46 1.85 12.3
Gladstone 5.77 2.19 0.85 0.82 2.76 0.85 13.2
Hunter 4.17 4.59 0.65 1.32 0.84 0.25 11.8
Andor 4.77 1.19 0.15 0.18 6.76 2.85 15.9
Mark Chapman 3.47 2.01 1.55 0.48 4.96 0.55 13.0
Andy Young 2.77 1.19 2.15 1.18 5.76 0.85 13.9
Carl 6.77 4.81 2.15 5.82 7.76 0.15 27.5
donyess 2.77 7.19 0.15 2.18 2.24 0.15 14.7
Tony 3.17 2.01 1.35 1.62 5.56 0.65 14.4
NinaIvanovna 1.27 2.19 4.05 0.68 5.76 1.95 15.9
Ernst Krenkel 3.77 3.81 4.15 1.82 10.76 0.85 25.2
Alex Mercouris 4.66 0.36 5.06 1.88 7.32 0.16 19.4
FyRuPolitics 3.54 2.83 0.54 1.47 6.14 0.71 15.2
Alex Latsa 5.57 1.69 7.35 3.82 9.26 1.85 29.5
SH 4.77 2.19 2.15 0.58 5.76 0.45 15.9
Timothy Post 2.77 0.81 0.15 12.18 15.76 0.15 31.8
aap 1.73 7.19 4.15 2.32 6.34 0.75 22.5

As for the others… Zhirinovsky’s result was best predicted by Moscow Exile; Zyuganov’s result was jointly best predicted by Andras and myself; Mironov’s result was jointly best predicted by Andor, donyess, and Timothy Post; Prokhorov’s result was best predicted by Andor, followed by Juha Savolainen and Mark Chapman; and the percentage of spoiled votes was jointly best predicted by Mark Sleboda, Carl Thomson, donyess, Timothy Post, Alex Mercouris, and myself.

(Reprinted from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 

Inspired by Kireev’s similar posts in Russian, I’m asking S/O readers to predict (1) The official results of the elections, and (2) The actual, i.e. non-falsified, results. Please give them to one decimal point, and include all the five candidates as well as the share of invalid votes. They will be displayed in the table below.

The winner will be the one, the sum of whose predicted results differ least from the official results. In the (very unlikely) case that there emerge two winners, i.e. they were wrong by the same amount, the one who responded earlier will be considered the winner. The reward will be ample praise on this blog and a free S/O T-Shirt. (Which reminds me, I still owe one to Alex Mercouris. Will get to work on that…)

Separately, feel free to also predict the real, i.e. non-falsified, results, or the scale of falsifications you expect in these elections. I expect 2%-3% falsifications, lower than the 5%-7% I believe happened in 2011, but not rooted out entirely.

VVZh GAZ SMM MDP VVP X
AK 9.5 17.0 7.5 6.0 59.0 1.0
showdown_2012 8.0 17.0 5.2 4.6 63.2 2.0
Mark Sleboda 9.0 15.0 6.0 7.0 62.0 1.0
Alex Sidorenko 7.0 26.0 13.0 3.0 49.0 2.0
Alex Latsa 11.8 15.5 11.2 4.0 54.5 3.0
Juha Savolainen 8.5 16.0 6.5 7.5 60.0 1.5
PK 7.9 15.7 6.1 8.7 60.1 1.5
Moscow Exile 6.4 16.7 8.0 4.6 61.3 3.0
Gladstone 12.0 15.0 3.0 7.0 61.0 2.0
Hunter 10.4 12.6 4.5 6.5 64.6 1.4
Andor 11.0 16.0 4.0 8.0 57.0 4.0
Mark Chapman 9.7 19.2 2.3 8.3 58.8 1.7
Andy Young 9.0 16.0 6.0 9.0 58.0 2.0
Carl 13.0 22.0 6.0 2.0 56.0 1.0
donyess 9.0 10.0 4.0 10.0 66.0 1.0
Tony 9.4 19.2 5.2 6.2 58.2 1.8
NinaIvanovna 7.5 15.0 7.9 8.5 58.0 3.1
Ernst Krenkel 10.0 21.0 8.0 6.0 53.0 2.0
Alex Mercouris 10.9 16.8 8.9 5.9 56.4 1.0
FyRuPolitics 9.8 20.0 4.4 6.3 57.6 1.9
SH 11.0 15.0 6.0 8.4 58.0 1.6
Timothy Post 9.0 18.0 4.0 20.0 48.0 1.0
aap 4.5 10.0 8.0 5.5 70.1 1.9
RESULTS 0 0 0 0 0 0

Predictions will be accepted until evening March 3, Moscow time. And now they are closed, thanks to the 23 people who participated!!

As soon as we get the official results, I will compile a list of our competitors by the accuracy of their predictions.

(Reprinted from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 

It is now increasingly evident that Russia’s population has settled on a small but decidedly firm upwards growth trend. I have been vindicated.

According to the latest data, in the first eight months of the year births fell by 1.4% (12.5/1000 to 12.3/1000) and deaths fell by 6.2% (from 14.6/1000 to 13.7/1000) relative to the same period last year. The rate of natural population decrease eased from -198,3000 to -128,800. The big fall in the death rate is due to two factors: (1) the continuing secular increase in life expectancy, due to decreasing alcohol consumption and more healthcare spending; (2) specific to 2011, the “high base” effect of the mortality spike during the Great Russian Heatwave last year.

This natural decrease was more than compensated for by 200,255 net migrants during the same period, making for a population increase of 71,500 this year to August. This more than cancels out the population decrease of 48,300 for the whole of 2010, and let it be reminded that it rose by 23,300 in 2009. In other words, in stark contrast to the avalanche of doom-mongering articles that continue to be written in the Western press about “dying Russia” – of which two of the most egregious examples are this and this – the reality is that today in net terms Russia’s population is now larger than it was in 2009.

At this point an important methodological point has to be made. This year, Rosstat switched to only accounting for immigrants who “register at the place of residence” in their population updates, as opposed to the previous method of accounting for anyone who enters the country with a permit to stay for a year or more. The former number is much smaller than the latter: whereas there were the aforementioned 200,255 net immigrants by the old method, Rosstat’s registration method only shows 68,822 (with the result that Rosstat says that Russia’s population actually decreased by 60,000 in the first eight months of this year). However, as Sergey Slobodyan (a frequent guest blogger here) noted at the JRL, this was an opaque and rather bizarre switch. For a start, even using the first method in the years before 2011, which gives far more emigrants than the by residency method, Rosstat still under-counted the numbers of migrants in Russia by one million – the 2010 Census showed there to be 142.9 million Russians, as opposed to the 142.0 million estimated by Rosstat on the basis of projections from the 2002 Census. And even on an intuitive level, doesn’t it seem obvious that far from every migrant to Russia will immediately bother (or be able to afford!) registering at a place of residence? Slobodyan speculates that the reason the new methodology was adopted was because of nationalist tensions over immigration levels in the run-up to the upcoming elections, which may have pressed the Kremlin into pressuring Rosstat, at least for the time being, into purposefully under-counting immigrants; hence the unexplained switch in methodology.

Particularly encouraging in the statistics for this year is that “mortality from vices” continues to fall very rapidly – things such as homicides, suicides, poisonings, etc., that have a much higher than average negative impact on life expectancy (because people who die those deaths tend to be younger) and the social problems they are typically associated with. Note that all of these figures are already lower than in 1990, the last year of Soviet normality (more or less). The same trend can be seen for deaths from accidents. Now to be accurate these death rates are still very high by global standards: whereas Russia’s total numbers of deaths from “external causes” (suicides, homicides, accidents, etc.) was 134 / 100,000, thus dipping below the levels of 1990, it is still far from the 40 / 100,000 types of figures in countries like Australia. No-one doubts that there is still a lot of work to be done on the health and safety front.

Predictably, none of this gets mentioned in the Western media, which is still replete with tropes about the mass emigration of Russia’s middle classes (debunked here multiple times), non-existent population collapse, and citations of outdated CIA World Factbook figures which are cited in lieu of official Rosstat ones. To the contrary, the population has stabilized, and the “brain drain” is now a mere trickle (only 400 Russian R&D specialists emigrated abroad for an undefined amount of time in the first half of 2011, which is a drop in the ocean besides its population of 143 million). Meanwhile, they have missed the true demographic apocalypse that is occurring not in Russia itself, but in one of its neighbors, Latvia, long lauded as a pro-Western and economically liberal “Baltic tiger”: almost as many people are now leaving Latvia every year as leaving Russia. But Latvia’s population is 75 times lower!

S/O, vindicated

Three years ago, based on my own demographic models, I predicted that Russia’s demographic future will be either one of stabilization, or slow population growth. In late 2009, I wrote that even under undemanding assumptions, “the population size will remain basically stagnant, going from 142mn to 143mn by 2023 before slowly slipping down to 138mn by 2050.” This was highly counter-consensus, even scandalous, at the time, given that the debate was dominated by the likes of Nick Eberstadt and most of the main demographics agencies believed a decline to the low 130 millions was likely by 2025. For instance, in the professionally titled Spring 09 article Drunken Nation, Dr. Eberstadt wrote: “UNPD projections for the year 2025 range from a high of about 136 million to a low of about 121 million… The Census Bureau’s projections for the Russian Federation’s population in 2025 are 128 million.”

Now the big demographics agencies are recognizing that things have fundamentally turned around. For instance, in its most recent 2011 World Population Data Sheet, the PRB’s Medium forecast for Russia’s population in 2025 is now 139.0 million. In the 2010 Revision of the World Population Prospects by the UN Population Division has Russia’s population falling to 139.0mn in 2025, with the High forecast being 144.5mn in 2025. Russian statistics agency Rosstat forecasts 140.9 million in 2025, the High version being 146.7 million (note that they still use the base population of 142.0 million for this estimate, not the 142.9 million revealed by the recent Census; in reality, once this is accounted for, their 2025 would logically be by a million bigger).

Whither now? I believe the current Low scenarios, envisaging a drop to the low 130 millions by 2025, have become very unlikely – they assume that many of the trends we see today, such as falling mortality, and net emigration, almost completely stall. In the light of the government’s campaign against excessive alcohol drinking – the primary cause of Russia’s high mortality rates – and the historical successes that tend to accompany such campaigns (e.g. Karelian Finland in the 1970′s and 1980′s), not to mention the more recent Baltic experience; as well as continued economic growth that will enable more resources to be diverted to healthcare and for consumers to pursue healthier lifestyle choices; means that life expectancy will continue rising relatively quickly. Meanwhile, as long as there remains a substantial income gap between Russia and the Caucasus and Central Asia, immigrants will continue to come. Some commentators have argued that fertility convergence in those regions will reduce the number of potential migrants to Russia in the years to come. Perhaps. On the other hand, as Moldova and the Baltic nations show, even being in demographic straits of their own does not necessarily lead to diminishing supplies of emigrants from economically-behind countries.

The above graph is a set of Low, Medium and High projections from Rosstat in 2000, with the High version (green) being a stabilization at 142.7 million people in 2011. As one can see, the mere fact that Russia’s population is at 142.9 million is a surprise to the upside as viewed from a decade ago. If things go well – the economy continues growing, mortality rates keep falling, etc. – then it is entirely possible that Russia’s population will follow today’s mainstream High projections (144-147 million) or even surpass 150 million (as in my original High projection) by 2025.

EDIT: This article has been translated into Russian at Inosmi.ru (Российская демография: развенчивая мифы).

(Reprinted from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.